Monday, January 30, 2012

make your own seed starting mix

I began doing this last growing season, and it worked beautifully. If you're starting a lot of seeds, it's much more cost effective to buy these raw materials in bulk, rather than purchasing pre-mixed bags. Once you source the materials, it really couldn't be simpler! It's just a 1:1:1 ratio:

1 part vermiculite
1 part perlite
1 part sphagnum peat moss or coir

Clockwise from the top: vermiculite, perlite, peat moss

Coir is made from coconut husks and is more sustainable than the peat moss (due to the potential destruction of the bogs in harvesting the moss), so coir is preferable if you can find it in your area. Garden centers tend to have these materials readily available.

By adding 1 part compost to the formula above, you can make a nice potting soil mix as well.

If you plan on keeping your seedlings in their containers for a long period of time before transplanting, adding compost as a fertilizer is a good idea. You can also add compost to the original mix, but I feel its heaviness and water retention properties aren't ideal for beginning seedlings, which need air circulation to promote germination and are prone to mold if too water-logged.

Are you beginning to think about starting seeds, too?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

an unexpected kind of pretty


I spend a lot of time at this kitchen sink of mine, and usually don't give it much thought. However, it recently captured my attention as it was looking rather neglected and uninviting. Really, it had become downright unfriendly! This hardworking sink of mine just really needed a good scrubbing.

The dirty dishes were washed and set on a towel to dry.
   

I scrubbed away with baking soda, vinegar, and steel wool to rid the corners of that calcified hard water which always seems to build up.

And somehow, having this sparkling sink made me notice the simple beauty of a pear core I had cut in fours to share with the goats.


There's a certain unexpected kind of pretty in these everyday, ordinary things - a pear core, a clean sink - very simple and pretty basic. Unadorned. That's the best kind of pretty, after all. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

{this moment}


Joining Soulemama for: "{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

beef chili

The word "chili" always seems to spur a debate about beans or no beans. I think beans are great, but we have actually come to prefer a meat-full, bean-free chili, so that's the one I'm sharing here. I do think it would work equally well with both beans and meat (or even all beans!) if that's your preference.   


Ingredients:
1 pound pasture-raised ground beef (elk or deer is excellent, too)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, chopped
4-5 stalks celery, chopped
Approximately 1 pound diced tomatoes (either canned or frozen works great)
4 Cups (plus more as needed) beef or chicken stock (that BBQ chicken stock I made was so good in this!)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 Tablespoons chili powder (plus more according to taste)
salt and black pepper to taste 

optional garnishes:
sour cream
shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Method:
1. In a dutch oven, brown the ground beef.
2. Add the onion, celery, garlic, and bay leaf. Let cook, stirring, for a few minutes. 
3. Add oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper
4. Add tomatoes and stock
5. Simmer for at least 30 minutes before tasting to adjust seasoning. The longer it simmers, the better!
note: We like our chili on the thicker side. You may want to add more stock for a more soupy chili! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

homemade vanilla extract

Do you happen to have some vodka just lying around? I do, but don't ask me why since I know nothing about mixing drinks. So, what better thing to do with it than make some vanilla extract! I found a wonderful, simple recipe here.


Amazingly, all you need to make your own real extract is vodka and vanilla beans. I bought some fresh and fragrant vanilla bean pods at the local health food store, and hopefully you'll know where to get some vodka (since I don't).


I used a glass bottle I had saved simply because I liked the shape of it, and it worked out perfectly for this. The pods need to steep in the alcohol for a couple months, and I'll report back on my progress and taste test when it's ready. I have a good feeling about it, though, so hopefully you'll also want to give it a try.

Monday, January 23, 2012

a happy (kitchen) accident

The words, "kitchen" and "accident" and "happy" don't usually go together, do they? Let me tell you a little story. Many years ago, I was a working college student, making my way in the world and very proud of being able to rent my own teeny, tiny, very little studio apartment, which also came with my very own teeny, tiny, little kitchen. Being the big girl that I now saw myself to be, I decided I should learn to cook in that kitchen - a skill I literally had no clue about, but was very intrigued by. One of my bright-eyed ideas was to have my boyfriend over for sopapillas.

I found a little bag of premade sopapilla mix at the grocery store that had specific directions on exactly how to turn this sack of flour into those golden, delicious, fried triangles of dough! What a brilliant idea! It was foolproof. Perfect for a beginner like me.

Step One:  Heat oil in a deep skillet. Oil must be VERY hot.
Step Two:  Mix contents of bag with one cup of water. Roll out dough and cut into triangles.
Step Three: Fry triangles for 5 minutes until golden brown

Great! Yes, I could do this, no problem. So I proceeded, following the directions VERY carefully and VERY literally. When it was time to place the dough triangles into the oil, I was concerned it didn't look hot enough. I mean, the directions said it must be VERY hot (Yes, VERY was in all-caps, I remember it clear as day). So, I thought it would be wise to put a lid on the pan for a couple minutes just to make sure that the oil was indeed hot enough.

(So far, my story sounds very sweet and cute doesn't it? That's good, because what I'm about to tell you is very not sweet and not cute).

Fast forward two minutes.

Boyfriend rings the bell. Come in! I'm just about to have my big moment frying the delicious sopapillas that look like I made them from scratch. Oh, he will be so impressed. 

La-de-da, I go to open the lid to the pan, certain my oil must be hot enough by now. It was hot, alright.

So hot, that, OH MY GOSH IT'S ON FIRE!!! Flames shoot up from the pot all the way to the ceiling and I feel I may have lost an eyebrow. Smoke alarm goes off. I hear neighbors above me running down the stairs to save themselves. Boyfriend attempts to come to my rescue and save the day. Unfortunately, he also knows nothing about cooking, so grabs a large cup of water to throw onto the fire. "Noooooooo," I mouth in slow motion as he runs toward the pan, because if I knew nothing else, I did know this: Absolutely, positively, no water on a grease fire.

Does this qualify as a grease fire, I wonder? No time for that, where's the salt?! Water hits fire. Flames shoot higher. I start flinging salt as fast as possible from my little salt shaker onto the fire. Boyfriend again comes to the rescue, pushing me aside, grabbing the pot's handle and flinging it upside down into the nearby sink, thereby miraculously extinguishing the fire.   

Okay, then. Pizza delivery?

Do you know what my boyfriend brought me the next time he came over? (Yes, he actually did come back. I know you were wondering...) My very own teeny, tiny, little kitchen fire extinguisher. And would you also be surprised to learn that my then boyfriend turned out to be my now husband. A very happy accident indeed.

All that to tell you about today's kitchen accident, which is not nearly as dramatic, but also has a happy ending. I turned the days-ago leftover carcass from this roast chicken:


Into today's most-delicious-I've-ever-made chicken stock:


This isn't an uncommon thing to do, so what is so special about it? I forgot that I had decided to brush that chicken all over with the last jar of my homemade bar-b-que sauce before I took it out of the oven. So, the remaining carcass and drippings I put into the stock also had quite a bit of the flavor from the sauce. And this turned out to be very, very good! It's a rich and slightly smoky (oh, the irony!!), fully-flavored stock. Another happy accident at an altogether different time and in an altogether different kitchen (no fire extinguisher needed).

Happy "Tet" {Vietnamese Lunar New Year}

Saturday, January 21, 2012

chao ~ Vietnamese rice porridge

"Chao" is a savory rice porridge that is particularly comforting during times of illness, but really can be enjoyed anytime. There are many variations of it, but I make the most simple one. I find I typically have all the necessary ingredients on hand. The soft, warm texture makes it easy to digest, and the ginger in here is good for upset stomachs. I also think the black pepper (if you choose to put it on top as a garnish) is helpful in clearing the sinuses. I hope you enjoy it, and find it as comforting as we do.  


Ingredients:
1 Cup uncooked jasmine (white) rice, plus about 1 1/2 to 2 cups water for cooking
4-6 Cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
2 thick slices of peeled fresh ginger
dash of sugar
a couple dashes of fish sauce, or alternatively, soy sauce

optional (but highly recommended) garnishes:
black pepper
chopped green onion


Method:
1. Rinse the rice and cook it in a rice cooker, or however you would normally prepare it.

~note: You could also make this a one-pot dish by cooking the rice in the stock instead of water (just be sure to add more stock, about 2 more cups worth). I find, though, I get a better texture by just pre-cooking the rice and then adding it to the stock. I feel it's also faster and easier this way, which are good things when you're not feeling well! 

2. Bring chicken stock and ginger to a boil in a medium sized pot.

~note: If you don't have chicken stock already made, simply boil some chicken parts, such as a couple drumsticks, along with the ginger, in about 6 cups of water for 30 minutes or so before adding the rice.

3. Stir in cooked rice, a little at a time, until the porridge is a bit thinner than your desired consistency.

4. Add the sugar and fish sauce.

5. Let the rice cook with the stock on low heat for about 15 minutes, which will further soften and break down the rice. Cook longer if porridge is still too thin for your liking, or add more stock if you want it to be more soupy.

6. Ladle into individual bowls and garnish with black pepper and green onions, if desired.

Friday, January 20, 2012

{this moment}


Joining Soulemama for: "{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

colds and comfort

We're nursing a bit of a cold here this week, and so the days have been lazy and filled with things that bring us comfort:
Tea


  "Chao," a Vietnamese rice porridge


Boiled vegetables in broth


Blankets (lots of them)


Hope you are well and comfortable, friends.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

tempura veggies

 
If anyone in your household happens to be averse to eating their vegetables, I think this is the way to convince them otherwise! The other way, might I gently suggest, is to make sure your veggies are as organic and farm fresh as is possible for where your circumstances happen to find you right now. Homegrown, or ethically farmed seasonal veggies truly do taste worlds above what you can buy anywhere else.

I just use whatever vegetables are in season, so lots of root veggies and the like this time of year: carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes (hands down my absolute favorite for this dish!), mushrooms...And sweet peppers, green beans, zucchini...in summer. 

What is the point of eating perfectly healthy vegetables if you're just going to deep fry them, you might be wondering? My reasoning (and, alas, I'm not known for my logic, so I admit this could very well be flawed) is that this batter is very light, frying in peanut oil is a relatively healthy option, and since the veggies don't have to be cooked for long, much of their nutritional value is retained.  



~note: please don't correct the cook if she is wrong in thinking this is an acceptable and healthy vegetable serving ;)  

Ingredients:

Batter:
1 egg, beaten
Equal portions (from 1/4 to 1 Cup each, depending on if you're feeding a handful of people or a large crowd) of:
      -all-purpose flour
      -ice cold water 
Dash of salt
Dash of sugar
Dash of cayenne pepper or paprika
Peanut oil for frying

Dipping Sauce:
Equal portions:
      -soy sauce
      -water
1/4 portion sesame oil
Sugar to taste
optional garnishes: chopped green onion and Thai red chili pepper


Method: 

1. Whisk together dipping sauce ingredients and set aside.

2. Slice or cut into strips your choice of veggies at a medium thickness. Certain ones, such as mushrooms or green beans, can be fried whole.

3. Whisk together all of the batter ingredients. It will be slightly lumpy, and this is fine.
~note: It's very important to use ice cold water, as this is what gives lightness to the batter. 

4. Heat enough peanut oil in a wok or deep pan on medium-high heat for a few minutes. You will know the oil is hot enough when the battered vegetable sinks and then immediately rises to the surface of the pan.

5. Dredge the vegetables in the batter and place carefully in the oil. The batter will seem watery and only coat the vegetables thinly. If making a large amount, fry in batches.

6. After about 5 minutes of frying, remove the vegetables and place them on a towel to drain.

7. Enjoy right away with the dipping sauce!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

a little knitted something for baby

I had a wee bit of yarn leftover from my cowl project, and wanting to use up every bit of this precious fiber, discovered I had just enough for some fingerless baby mittens. I really like this pattern, which is very easy and very fast! I made mine a bit shorter and on larger needles, and also knit them on straight needles instead of in-the-round (which I haven't quite yet learned how to do).

 
I love how they provide warmth for little hands, while also allowing for the bountiful grabbing, thumb sucking, and finger chewing that's going on these days.


They're a tad big, so she has room to grow. I'm thinking a useful modification to the pattern would be to start with a smaller size needle for the wrist ribbing, to help the mittens stay on a little better. They sometimes fall off, but she tends to keep them on, especially when she's holding something, or admiring her sweet hands with great fascination (there's a lot of that going on from baby and from mama these days, too).


Ack! I can't stand the cuteness of tiny baby fingers in tiny fingerless mittens!  

 
Now, during farm chores, we're both very warm and very fancy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

meatballs from scratch

Goodness, an entire week's worth of food posts! Well, we've all gotta eat, yes? Here's something to top off your homemade marinara sauce and pasta.


These meatballs are heavy on the onion, which helps them stay moist, and they have a nice flavor depth due to the spices. After they're cooked, I oftentimes place them in the crockpot with marinara sauce until we're ready to eat. This also works well for parties, and topped with mozzarella, they also make great meatball sandwiches.   

~makes about 25 meatballs

Ingredients:

1/4-1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 Cup whole milk
1 Tablespoon butter
1 small onion, minced finely
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 egg, beaten
1 small bunch fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped (Alternatively, 1 teaspoon or so of dried oregano)
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and black pepper to taste 

Method:

1. Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk

2. Sautee onion in butter for a few minutes, until softened

3. In a large bowl, mix together the bread crumbs and onion with the rest of the ingredients. (I do this with my hands)

4. Form meatballs of your desired size, and place them on a baking sheet.

5. Bake at 375 degrees F for 25-30 minutes


Have a lovely weekend, friends, hopefully with some slow cooking going on!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

homemade pasta


I find making pasta from scratch to be very fun and rewarding. It's really not difficult, and all you need is time (and love, always love). I first learned how to do this from the book Family Meals, which is still my go-to reference. A basic hand-cranked pasta machine helps to make the dough thin, which I think is quite difficult to do just with a rolling pin. However, that's not a requirement, and there's certainly nothing wrong with a thicker pasta! My machine, which looks very similar to this one (I recall paying about $15-$20 for it on discount, years ago) also has a cutting attachment for thin and wide noodles, but I sometimes cut the pasta by hand for fun anyway.        


~note: It's best to have a couple resting periods for the dough between rolling, so please read through the method section before starting, to help you plan your time accordingly.

Ingredients:
1 Cup organic, unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 Cup semolina flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons cold water
1 Tablespoon organic extra-virgin olive oil


Method:
1. Stir together both flours and the salt. You can do this in a large bowl, but I actually just dump everything on a large cutting board and mix it with my hands (more fun that way).

2. Mound up your flour mixture and make a well in the center. Add the eggs, water, and oil. (Alternatively, you could whisk the wet ingredients first and then add this to the dry). Mix thoroughly with your hands, forming a dough.

3. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until it's smooth and elastic. If it's too sticky, add more flour. If too dry and crumbly, add more water.

4. Form the dough into a round ball, and cut it in thirds. Flatten each third into a disk, cover with a damp towel, and let rest for about 45 minutes. At this point you can also refrigerate or freeze the dough for later use. Just let it come to room temperature before proceeding to the next step.       
 
5. Roll out the dough using a rolling pin, until it's thin enough to fit through the widest setting on the pasta machine (labeled with a "1" on mine). Roll each piece of dough through the machine's widest setting 3 times, folding it in half before each time. Cover again, and let it rest 15 minutes. 

6. Roll the dough through each progressively narrower setting once, until you have a long, smooth sheet. You're aiming for a dough that's thin enough to see your hand through! Dust the dough in flour if at any point it begins to stick too much to the machine.   

7. At this point, you have a world of options for cutting your pasta! You can use the sheets as is, for lasagna. You can cut them in squares for ravioli. Or you can make noodles of any width, either with the machine's attachment, or by hand using a knife.

8. I made mine into noodles this time. If you cook them straightaway, they only need under a minute in boiling, salted water. I also add oil to the water to help prevent sticking. Alternatively, you can dust them with flour and refrigerate, or leave them in the open air to dry for storage.
~note: They take a couple hours to dry, and are really delicate, so just know you'll have some breakage when you go to put them in your storage container. It might be best to dry them on a baking sheet, but I'm still experimenting with the best method for this part.                  


And, how do you know you've fully enjoyed your pasta making experience? By the dough and flour found on the floor, of course!


As well as by the swift clean-up crew that comes to your aid.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

on slow cooking

Earlier this week, I had an all-day cooking event! There were pots bubbling away, doughs kneaded by hand, breads baked in the oven, and both sides of the sink overrun with dishes.


Even though, for the most part, I keep my own schedule these days (or, rather the baby and animals keep me on schedule!), I often have the hurry-up-and-get-things-done-already feeling. I'm trying to make a more deliberate effort to slow things down. (Hard for me? Difficult? Challenging? Yes. But oh, so worthwhile). So, I gave myself the luxury of a full day to prepare a slow, completely from scratch dinner start to finish. I worked around the baby's needs, allowing myself the time to leisurely go about my sole purpose.


We live in an age where convenience has taken priority, and how fast you can do something seems to trump how well you can do it. There exists an arbitrary timeline of "5 minute breads" and "30 minute meals" that, for me anyway, just adds to the feeling of rush, rush, rush. I'm not saying busy families can or should spend all day, every day in the kitchen preparing meals, but I think there's really something to be said for taking our time when we can.


I found doing this gave me a much deeper appreciation for my food and most especially gave me a sense for properly honoring the animals and plants the food came from.


I wish for us all the gift of time for S...L...O...W cooking.
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