Saturday, August 2, 2014

Pickles

It's been another busy cooking day over here in the little house in the miniature woods. Blueberry pie got made (with a bat shaped cut out on top no less, per Max's insistence), 3 1/2 pints of blueberry syrup canned and in the basement (delicious, by the way), dinner, and lots and lots of pickle making/prepping.

Dinner was ratatouille with roasted chicken breast, cooking it on one tray was my mom's idea, I was going to do it separately but I highly recommend this method instead, it's painfully easy. Chop your vegetables, toss in lots and lots of olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and I threw in fresh thyme and basil from my little herb garden. Dump it all on a tray lined with foil and make a space for your chicken. Rub whatever olive oil mixture you have left from your veggie bowl on the chicken, and put the whole tray in the oven at 425 for an hour, stirring your veggies around every 15 minutes.

Zucchini, red onion, eggplant, purple bell pepper, garlic, and tomato. Once it came out of the oven I topped it with more fresh basil. 

Next up: pickles. Earlier this afternoon I put 10 1/2lbs of pickling cucumbers in a cooler that we actually use to haul our meat share home (don't worry, I washed it well) and covered them with a salt water brine to begin fermenting for kosher dills. The cooler was the only food grade plastic item I could find in my house to hold that many cucumbers plus the water.

With the remaining cucumbers I searched the web for a sliced dill pickle recipe since they were too large to can in spears or whole. I found a few recipes but this one seemed easy and most likely to actually work. I have a lot of cucumbers and not a huge amount of white vinegar remaining so I scaled out what vinegar I had (8cups) and altered the recipe from there. I figured I would get 6 quarts of pickles or thereabouts (I don't have enough pint jars to do pints of pickles as the recipe calls for) but alas, once I got the jars in the pan I heard a bang, which can only mean one thing: jar explosion.

 The recipe states to process the jars for 5 minutes and reading the comments there appeared to be one person who made them in quart jars and processed for 10 minutes which seemed too long and resulted in soft pickles, so I compromised and did 7 minutes. The pickles look a bit browner in color than I would like, but I was concerned that 5 minutes wouldn't be enough, especially because you're filling hot jars with cold cucumbers, which brings the temperature of the jars down very quickly. In each jar I crammed in as many thickly sliced cucumbers as I could, like maybe a 1/2" slice or more (I'm really bad with measurements) dropped in 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of dried dill, and a scant 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. Fill the jars with boiling brine, then I used a chopstick to get any air bubbles out and sealed them up. Put them into a boiling water bath and immediately start timing. Five minutes for pint jars and for quart jars? Well, time will tell. Guess I'm supposed to wait a couple of weeks before trying them.


So only four quarts of sliced garlic dills done for this evening. I still have over a quart of brine remaining and will have to continue tomorrow. Since I had to fish out broken glass and pickle slices out of boiling water I decided to call it a night and relax with a nice glass of strawberry shrub and seltzer. Oh, you don't know what strawberry shrub is? It's this. And it's highly addictive. My new obsession.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer Baking

Finally I got around to doing some baking and pickle making today. It was hard to drum up the motivation but I had to use this stuff up.

First, the pickles. I had larger cukes so I made my grandmother's sweet pickle recipe.
Every time I eat them, this.
Man I hate those yellow counter tops.

On Saturday I went blueberry picking all day with the kids. We picked probably a good 11 pounds of berries. Two pounds are frozen for later, 5 cups reserved for pie and the rest, well.....yeah. We've been snacking on them and I want to make blueberry syrup and butter. In addition to the abundant blueberries it is of course squash season so we have plenty of zucchini. I've made two loaves of zucchini bread, zucchini gratin, even zucchini pizza (which was good, by the way). While I usually use the Paula Deen zucchini bread recipe I searched for something different this time around and behold, Zucchini Blueberry bread. Yes!!! Two birds!!
Here is the original recipe (makes 2 loaves):
3 eggs
1c oil
1T vanilla
2 1/4c sugar
2c shredded zucchini
3c flour
1t salt
1t baking powder
1/4t baking soda
1T cinnamon
1 pint blueberries

After reading the comments and seeing a lot of "I substituted applesauce for the oil so it'd be healthier" lines, I seriously considered adding a cup of butter just to be a smart ass about it. Too bad butter doesn't keep the bread as moist for as long, but it'd be delicious, I can tell you that much.

Secondly, whenever I make quick breads like this I find 1 cup sugar per loaf to be more than enough sweetness. So I knew I'd cut down on the sugar. In addition, I increased the baking powder because 1 teaspoon isn't very much for two loaves, reduced the cinnamon and increased the zucchini, so my final recipe read like this:

3 eggs
1c oil
1T vanilla
scant 1 cup white sugar
scant 1 cup brown sugar
3 cup shredded zucchini
2c all purpose flour
1c whole wheat flour
1t salt
2t baking powder
1/4t baking soda
1/2t cinnamon
scant 2c blueberries

Beat the eggs, oil, vanilla and sugars together. Mix in zucchini. Add dry ingredients, stir to combine. Fold in blueberries. Divide into two greased loaf pans, bake at 350F 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool in pan 30 minutes then remove to rack to cool completely.

Other ideas for this recipe: make into muffins and top with streusel. Call me if you're making them. I'll even bring the coffee.



Monday, June 9, 2014

Homemade Gatorade

It's going to be a long summer over here. I am without a CSA this year so I'm kind of lost and not sure what to do with myself since I don't have pounds and pounds of assorted fruits and vegetables to put up, and we're basically eating a lot of meat and beans and whatever apparent microgreens I'm capable of growing in my garden, which just got eaten by some lousy deer. Like I said, it's going to be a long vegetable-less summer. Makes me tear up a little. So here's another in what will be a long line of weird homemade concoction blog posts for your potential enjoyment.

There are a few ingredients I never let the kids have (or even have in my house) unless it's in something they're eating while we're out having a treat or something, and those things are high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fat or oil, margarine, and food dyes. Now I know many will debate whether the food dye is actually a thing, but I've seen my kids after kool-aid, and it's not pretty. So while I know Gatorade is certainly handy if you're dehydrated and need something fast (I drank one at work last night while working next to a grill for 12 hours in 100+ degree heat so yeah, they're handy) it's not something I want to give the kids every couple days when they have soccer practices and games.

Last year, though, the boys both did a soccer camp. The first day of the camp was probably the hottest day of the year, a good 95-100 degrees easily. We of course had loads of water on hand, and the camp provided water coolers as well and they turned on the sprinklers for the kids to cool off in at one point as well. But while Max was done 20 minutes in, Nate kept going, full speed, for the full 2 hours, because he's Nate and that's what he does. By the time we were halfway home, no more than 5 minutes into the ride, I realized that he was suffering from heat exhaustion bordering on heat stroke. I seriously considered driving straight to the ER, but decided not to because I knew how traumatic that would be for him so I went home instead. I put him in a cold bath and put cold cloths on his head and face while he sat in cold water. I was trying to get him to drink water but I knew when you're that dehydrated and exhausted, you can't just have water and risk flushing out what little sugars and minerals you have remaining in your body. Well I didn't have Gatorade in the house, but if I did I wouldn't be writing this now, because I would have given him one. Instead, I had to Google "homemade Gatorade" and quickly make up a recipe from the many I quickly skimmed. I threw one together and both kids loved it. It has sugar, it has salt, you apparently can even crush a calcium tablet and throw that in too which I haven't tried but maybe when it gets really hot I will.

I don't do much measuring now, and when I made two quarts of this for the soccer game this past weekend when it was in the 80s, I thought it worked really well and tasted great. And of course the kids thought it was the coolest thing ever that I knew how to "make Gatorade", earning me a "you're amazing! I can't believe you can make it!" comment, which is always nice.

In a quart jar (I use mason jars, but then, I use mason jars for everything....) combine about 1/4c lemon juice, 1-2Tbs honey (you can do more or less depending on your taste) and 1/4-1/2tsp salt. Stir until the honey and salt dissolve, you can add some water to help out this process. Then fill the jar halfway with water and use ice to fill the rest of the way. Put the lid on and shake like crazy to mix. Done. Drink. Bask in your awesomeness.

Friday, May 2, 2014

All Natural Bathroom Cleaner

It's a thrill a minute up over here! Yes, today I made disinfecting bathroom cleaner. In my never ending pursuit of attempting to limit the amount of neurotoxins in my house, I looked around online today for some good ideas I could keep around. In the past I've scrubbed the toilet bowls with Borax and elbow grease, which works really well, but what about the seats and sinks? I found this recipe online and made a spray bottle for it:

2Tbs Borax
3c hot water
4Tbs white vinegar

Put borax into a spray bottle, heat your water, and pour it into the bottle, stirring well to dissolve the borax. Stir in the white vinegar. And yes, I wrote the recipe on the bottle because otherwise I'll never remember where I found it online or where I wrote it down on some little scrap of paper somewhere....I'm really disorganized.

I added Tea Tree Oil to mine because it has antiseptic properties, I think I used about 15 drops. You could use any number of essential oils though, lavender, citrus, thyme.....they'd all work.

I cleaned both bathrooms with this cleaner this afternoon and it's nice. The bathrooms smell clean, and not like assorted chemical clean, but actual clean smelling, you know?

I had been very good about using only my homemade dishwasher detergent as well (equal parts borax and baking soda or washing soda, white vinegar in the rinse agent spot with some essential oil) but lately I have had a very hard time finding washing soda at the stores, or at the very least, large boxes of baking soda. I look at each grocery store I go to, plus the usual suspects of Target and Kmart. No one has it. So until I find it again I'm using conventional dishwasher detergent which pains me because I feel like I can hear the chemicals seeping into our well water.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ch Ch Ch Changes....

Yesterday I did something I hope I don't regret. I told my boss (the chef) I was bored. Because I'm ballsy and stupid like that. Truth be told, I am bored. I've been working the pantry at the country club for over a year now and am asking myself some serious questions like, do I want to do pastry or hot line? Which do I want to work on? Because I can't continue making Caesar salads all day everyday or I'll stab out my eyes with my knife. If I want to focus on pastry I would have to consider leaving and finding another job where I could really learn something. Is that what I want to do? Because to be honest, I feel like my pastry skills are severely lacking. I've really hit a wall in pastry, there's nowhere for me to go if I don't have someone more experienced to teach me some new skills, which I desperately need. So I thought that perhaps I should focus my energies on learning more about the savory side of things.

Surprisingly enough, the chef said, "oh, I thought you were just content". Um, well if by content you mean "stagnant" then...yes? He said that of course I could move to the hot line, he'd hire someone to take my place in pantry. So there you go, that was easy. And he wasn't upset at the boredom comment either.

See the problem is that I have to decide what I want to do with my culinary life. I've been zigzagging around since I finished pastry school. I mean sure, I went to pastry school and I started in pastry in the my first job, but even there I eventually ended up in pantry and then the hot line. Then after that, pantry, pastry, hot line, and then after that, pastry, hot line, then exclusively pastry (well, to be fair, mostly cookie baking) for three months, then more hot line. I'm all over the place. Being well rounded is nice and all, but do I want to bake or cook? I felt like I needed to make a decision if only so I could not be bored and miserable at work everyday. And really, after watching Anthony Bourdain's latest episode of Parts Unknown I thought, that's what I need to learn how to do. We're certainly not making that level of food where I work, not by a long shot, but it's a start. It's things like butchering, sauces, and soups that are more than just beef necks thrown in with some lentils (delicious, by the way) that I need to learn.I want to feel more confident than I do now working on a hot line. Every time I dice an onion I feel like I do a shitty job of it. I can do better.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pressure Cooker Beef Barley Soup

I've had chefs tell me using a pressure cooker is "cheating" but I couldn't disagree more. When it's 4:5pm, you need to make a meal and you only have stew beef with which to make soup, the pressure cooker is a godsend.

1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1lb stew beef, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 bay leaf
1/2tsp thyme leaves
1Tbs tomato paste
2tsp soy sauce
4c beef stock
1/3c quick cooking barley

Saute the onion, celery, carrot and beef in a little olive oil over high heat about 5 minutes. Stir in the bay leaf, thyme, soy sauce and tomato paste. Cook for another minute or two, then pour in the beef stock. Bring the cooker up to pressure and cook 25 minutes. When time is up turn off the heat and let the cooker sit and release the pressure on its own. Remove the lid. Bring the soup up to a boil over high heat, add the barley and simmer until the barley is tender. Season with salt and pepper.

See? Beef barley soup made with stew beef in about 40 minutes. Not too shabby.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I Don't Have a Star Wars Related Title for This Post

Here we are, day two of no sugar, no white flour and trying to focus on protein. I'm impressed I made it through yesterday, since last night I was really eyeing up a leftover candy cane that's been in the cabinet since Christmas. Last night I almost caved and made myself hot cocoa.

The bread I made yesterday bombed, it did not rise well and it fell in the oven, resulting in two bricks which I have since put in the freezer for breadcrumbs. Bummer. I went to a bread outlet store today and found 12 grain bread, 100% whole wheat (plus 11 more grains I guess?) sweetened only with honey. I bought two loaves. I know it seems I'm obsessed with bread and eat it all the time. I don't, but when I have eggs for breakfast I really need at least one small piece of toast just for texture since I can't eat just eggs without a bite of something crunchy with them, otherwise I tend to gag. Sensory issues, I know.

For dinner last night I was starved. I ate three pieces of chicken cooked with lemon and olives, and quinoa with pine nuts, cilantro and spices. I gobbled down my big bowl and ate whatever the kids didn't finish plus another small bowl after that. But whomever said protein fills you up either is a liar or my stomach didn't get the memo because by 9:30 I was starving, like hunger pangs starving. I had some fruit with cheese and went to bed before I could find the chocolate chips.

This morning I wasn't as consumed with what sugar I could eat for breakfast. I had one of the muffins I made yesterday, meh, not great. I had my coffee (cream only, which I've done for years now) and then an omelette with ham and cheese. I inhaled it and was, again, STILL hungry! A banana later and I had to go to the grocery store. I got for myself some snacks, fruit, avocados, sweet potatoes, cheese, salami, and tuna. For lunch I had a salad with homemade dressing, half an avocado, salami and cheese. Not a huge meal but I actually feel fairly satisfied. I'm not craving any sweets other than the pint of Ben and Jerry's that I know is in the freezer. I think at this point the hardest thing I'm going to have to do is find a way to start liking egg salad. Ugh, just not a fan, but maybe if I add plenty of hot sauce and chopped cornichons it'd be edible?

Tonight's dinner is pork chops cooked with sauerkraut, a great recipe out of The German Cookbook by Mimi Sheraton, with roasted potatoes and maybe carrots? We don't have much in the way of vegetables once the CSA runs out and tend to eat whatever squash or potatoes we have laying around or what I have in the freezer, which isn't much now that it's the end of March. I actually bought mesclin mix last week which almost never happens.

Either way I'm wondering how long I'll be on this wagon. 24 hours is pretty good for me since it's been well documented that I can't commit to much of anything.