Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A New Garden

Our town finally has a community garden. Newly tilled and fenced, but no water on site. We have a plot, 18x40 feet, facing south. I called my farmer friend for help and we planned what would go where. Since we keep the plot till Nov. 30, we'll have a second round going in when the first round comes out. I'm told that the fall garden will be even better than the summer garden!

Right now, I have about 20 feet of space for herbs. We're growing a double row of green beans, 2 hills of zucchini, 3 of yellow squash, a row of mixed tomatoes, a row of white potatoes, plus carrots, cukes, cantaloupe, butternut squash, onions, and several other things. A fair bit will end up in the pantry - tomatoes, winter squash, onions, potatoes, the herbs and so on. Some of the herbs were chosen for eating fresh - savory doesn't store well, same with chervil, and I'd like to try those. And of course, there are tomatoes, cukes and Ambrosia cantaloupe for eating fresh!

I'm growing both hybrid and heirloom varieties this year. Since I cannot save seed this year and need the best production for putting food up, it's a good compromise.

Hybrids are "plants produced by impregnating the pistil of one species with the pollen of another" (source: About.com) - you can create hybrids in your back yard. GMO is what I try to avoid; those are the ones that are "modified using genetic engineering techniques" (source: Wikipedia) - not something you can do in the backyard! I wanted to clarify that as there is sometimes confusion between to two terms.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Farmer's Market as Training

I use the Farmer's market as training. All this fresh, local food. I don't even have to grow it. But, how on earth do you cook some of these things? Eggplant? - well, purple is a cool color, but, um, ya - weird food. Zucchini? No idea.

So, I buy a couple here and there of the different things. An eggplant in the fridge until I'm no longer afraid to cook the weird thing. Squash, over and over, till I'm forced to learn new things it can do. Keep the tomato drippings - if they came off tomatoes that yummy, they should be good for something! - Ah, yes, broth for winter's soups.

After doing this for two years, I know not to plant eggplant in our sunny garden, since we don't eat it yet. Summer squash will get planted, and I'll learn more ways to cook and store it. Sungold tomatoes? German Striped slicers? Yum! Cabbage, too, so that I can put up homemade sauerkraut - it's the only kind I can eat. Green beans get a double row, because they'll end up dried or canned in the pantry.

Right now? It's Egg Season (spring). I have 5 dozen eggs in the fridge - yes, five! - so I'm training on how to serve them all! And quiche would be good but isn't on the menu (because of the dairy in it). Hmm... Perhaps I ought to start baking...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Indepedance Day - 17 April 2011

We get a sunny garden this year! We have a plot at the new community garden, and will be growing food there to put up for the winter.

1. Plant something: Nothing this week. There are, however, trays of plants on the patio that need planting.

2. Harvest something: Nothing.

3. Preserved something: Diced bread for stuffing.

4. Waste not (preparations): Planning the sunny garden and what we should put up for next winter. Writing down ideas for the fall garden, because we will keep the garden plot until Nov. 30.

5. Want not (manage your stores): Re-organized the second pantry so I can find the food =)

6. Build community: My farmer friend helped my plan my sunny garden. I'm helping her when she needs me, too.

7. Eat the food: Is it bad I can't remember what I'm cooking lately? But I am cooking, from scratch and from the pantry.

8. Crafting: Working on the commission blanket.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Independance Day - 10 April 2011

After I get home from work and take care of the evening routine, I really only have time to work on one project if I still want to relax before going to bed at a decent hour. Makes sense, seems obvious.... but it wasn't.

1. Plant something: nothing this week. I did buy seedling plants of chives, cilantro, basil, and a patio cherry tomato which will get planted sometime this week.

2. Harvest something: a turkey egg at a friend's farm, brought in and put in the incubator. She's trying to get a breeding flock of Bourbon Red turkeys started from the pairs she has now.

3. Preserved something: Nothing this week.

4. Waste not (preparations): Nothing this week.

5. Want not (manage your stores): Nothing this week.

6. Build community: Spent the day helping my friend with her farm yesterday, soaking up information.

7. Eat the food: Usual cooking at home daily (all the meals).

8. Crafting: A bit of spinning and crochet.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Meat Pot Pie - Leftover friendly!

I had to find a dairy-free version for our family. This is a very leftover-friendly meal! It’s popular, and flexible - I’ll happily put in leftover veggies. Leftover greens are good, too; you can also add turnips or parsnips. The meat is usually leftovers, and the broth is homemade.

Also, if you make too much filling, freeze it in 3 to 4-cup amounts (a quart canning jar of broth with meat or veggies; with both it’s too much) and that’s the right amount.

Pot Pie Recipe

Makes one 9” pie. Can be modified, of course, to make smaller ones.

2 pie crusts
4 Tbsp butter or olive oil
2 cups shredded chicken
2 cups chicken broth
about 2 cups of mixed veggies/leftovers
(OR 2 carrots, diced; 2 small potatoes, diced; and 1/3 cup peas)
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1/3 cup flour
1 Tbsp poultry seasoning

1) In large saucepan, melt butter (or heat oil). Add celery, garlic, & onion and cook until they start to soften. Add flour, and cook for another minute for the flour to begin to brown.

2) Add broth, a bit at a time, stirring as you go. Add veggies (except peas) and continue cooking as sauce thickens. Add more flour if needed.

3) Remove from heat and add chicken, peas, and poultry seasoning.

4) Put bottom crust in pie pan. Pour in filling, add top crust. Flute edges and cut steam vents.

5) Bake @ 350F for one hour. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Poultry Seasoning Recipe:

makes about 1/2 cup

2 tsp ground sage
1 1/2 tsp ground thyme
1 tsp ground marjoram
3/4 tsp ground rosemary
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Mix well. Store in glass jar, out of the sunlight.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ahead of the Bean

For years, I was unwilling to buy dry beans. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with them, or how to incorporate them into my schedule. I finally decided they were inexpensive enough that I could afford to destroy the food on accident.

It never happened (destroying food, I mean). It's easy to use them. I decide dinner one day in advance anyway; if I make it two days then I have time to soak the beans. Or I can soak extra beans and freeze them, then when I need them it's thaw-and-cook. So now on Taco Night we have homemade refried beans instead of the brand-name canned stuff. I'm still learning the recipe but I have the beans soaked, in the freezer and waiting for me. The home-soaked beans have a better texture than canned ones, as well.

To soak beans for a recipe that calls for canned beans, use about 1 cup of dried beans and remember that they'll need to cook a little longer than the canned beans. Keep an eye on how soft they are to adjust the time, or cook them a little in advance before adding to the recipe (see cooking directions below).

To be 'ahead of the bean,' I will soak a bag of beans starting on Friday, with a change of water on Saturday. The water from the soakings can be re-used for watering plants, if desired. On Sunday I put the beans in fresh water on the stove and cook until they mash easily against the side of the pot with a fork. Not smooshy-soft but with a bit of resistance before they mash. They are then cooled and packed into pint jars with water to cover (remember that 1" to 2" of space at the top). Then label, date, and freeze. I use pint jars for this because one jar is enough to make the refried beans or to add to soups & stews.

Cost-wise, most dried beans run about $1 a pound here. Canned beans run about $1.50 a can, and that bag of dried beans will make two to three cans worth of beans. So that $1 bag of beans is equivalent to $4.50 worth of canned beans. Plus, I've never seen cranberry beans or many other delicious varieties available canned.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Independance Days - 3 April 2011

1. Plant something: The last of the beets are finally in the ground.

2. Harvest something: nothing, but the Swiss chard looks delicious...

3. Preserved something: Nothing this week. We've been eating out of the freezer rather than filling it.

4. Waste not (preparations): Improved management of finances, working on decluttering again.

5. Want not (manage your stores): Noting what we're eating and what we're not to help me plan what to put up over the summer. I see piles of tomatoes in my future...

6. Build community: Telling folks that our city finally has a community garden. Yes, I have an application in and am waiting to hear back from them.

7. Eat the food: tacos, endless sweet tea, yellow rice served with chickpeas.

8. Crafting: A bit of spinning, a bit of work on the commission blanket.
Drop Spindle and fiber by Zebisis
Spindle by Zebisis Designs

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Freezing & Utilizing Leftovers

Our only freezer space is the freezer on top of the refrigerator. Just to make life fun, the fridge is the however-old one of questionable maintenance that came with the apartment. Dependable, not too much of an energy hog, but still not exactly top of the line. Things do get freezer burn if we're not careful. There's also the option for avalanches if stacking isn't done well! I thought it would be useful to post an overview of what has worked for us when it comes to utilizing our freezer. I'm also including ideas on how to stretch leftovers, so that not-quite-enough becomes plenty for all.

I'm gradually using more glass than plastic when storing food. With glass, it's extra important to leave space a the at the top of each jar to allow for the expansion of the food as it freezes. I always leave at least one inch, preferably two inches, at the top. When I haven't allowed enough space, I've often thawed the food so I can throw out the jar because the bottom broke off! In those instances, I throw out the food too, just to be safe. I don't want to take chances with glass shards.

Quart jars hold 3 cups/24 ounces, which is two to three servings depending on the food. Pint jars hold 2 cups/16 ounces. I will re-use commercial glass jars for this, or I use my regular canning jars. Be careful with the commercial jars as I've found them to be a bit less sturdy than the canning jars. I cool off the food in the fridge, and then transfer it to the freezer.

Keep in mind that some foods will soften due to being frozen. I believe this includes pasta and beans. Detailed information on freezing foods can be found here.


Leftovers are frozen by serving amounts whenever possible. Don't forget to label and date the packages, and to keep them rotated. Not everyone needs to be able to identify frozen broths by color, even if I had to learn the hard way!

Single Servings:
Some leftovers are intended as single-servings, often for me to take to work for lunch. For these, I will set the food up ready-to-eat: Leftover chicken with the stuffing and veggies in the same dish, either side-by-side or stacked; spaghetti with sauce on top and perhaps cheese; etc. Essentially thaw-and-serve. I can take the food out at bedtime, put in the fridge overnight, and then take it to work with me for lunch the next day. I do not refrigerate it at work as it is still slightly frozen and will finish thawing in the morning, while it also cools my drink. I've done this with rice dishes, spaghetti, meats, and veggies - just about anything. Often I pack the food with a pat of butter on top as the extra moisture while reheating seems to help. Then again, I like butter on just about anything, so your mileage may vary on that one.

Multiple Servings:
When there are enough leftovers for a second meal, I will often freeze it in Quart canning jars. For the three of us, one quart jar with an added side (say, soup with garlic bread or a salad) is enough for one meal. For two of us, just the quart jar is enough. For a larger family, or unexpected company, you can adjust from there. Plan on two quart jars for dinner for four, and add sides to feed five or more.

Planning on three people, and your parents stop by? Salads and bread for everyone, and add pasta to the soup while it heats. You could also add a can of veggies to stretch it; I keep canned carrots and potatoes on hand for this reason. They need heating rather than cooking, so they'll cook at the same speed as the rest of the soup.

To freeze soups, I add 2 cups of solids and then pour in the broth until the jar is full (1" to 2" below the top). The jar is labeled with the contents and date, and frozen. Meats are often shredded or diced, then packed gently into jars and frozen. Veggies are frozen in the juices they cooked in, or in vegetable broth or water depending on what I have. I make sure the water covers the veggies so that they'll be in the best shape when they come back out.

Soup can be used for planned-overs by using it as the base for a potpie. Follow the directions for the potpie with these substitutions: drain the broth of your soup into a measuring cup, and add water if needed to get the amount of broth needed for the soup. Use where the recipe calls for broth. Add the solids from your soup when the recipe calls for the veggies, keeping in mind that it may not need quite as much cooking time since your veggies are already cooked. If there is meat in your soup, you will not need to add meat to the pie filling. Follow the other directions as given. This turns two or three servings of soup into six to eight filling servings of potpie!

Planning a From-Scratch Pantry

Canned Apples 2009
By which I mean a pantry stocked (to whatever extent) with food you can use to make homemade meals, snacks, and deserts. I’ll also discuss planning what you need to can and dry for your pantry.

Getting Started
  • Track current usage
    What are you eating? Is it from scratch? If not, do you have a recipe? What ingredients do you need?
  • Frequently made recipes
    What do you like to eat? You should keep ingredients for a batch or two of family favorites in the pantry. I'd keep enough for 2 of each meal, in case you don't get to the store to restock before you want it again.

  • Create a sample one-month menu/ grocery list.

    Example: pet supplies. I know we need about 18lbs cat food, 2 14-lb bags of litter, and about 4 bags of treats. I can get everything in one trip – and since it’s to the large pet store, that makes it a time-saver as well. This will last two months (sometimes more) for our two cats.

    Example: Vegetables. During winter, I like to serve a can of veggies with dinner. So, 5 nights x 14oz cans = (5 nights x 30 weeks) in pints (16oz each) = 150 pints of assorted veggies, add 10% for extra coverage - 145. I’ll take that and round it off so that I run full batches of 8 pints – so, 144 pints of assorted vegetables is what I’ll need, if I can everything myself. Note that this doesn't allow for fresh veggies, which is always preferred. I'm still learning how to estimate what we need, so the first few times/years it will be a learning process.

    Example: I’ve had to change from getting groceries weekly, to monthly. I knew the change was coming and kept track of what we use each week, and used that to estimate what we’ll need for the month. I mentioned the cat supplies and veggies above; I also know that I like serve meals in a pattern – two nights are leftovers, one night based on beef, one night meatless, three or four nights based on chicken. Times that by four and I know what to buy for the month. When sales come I do make exceptions and stock up as much as our small freezer will let me.

  • Expand the list to cover 12 months, allowing for seasonal variations - lighter foods in summer's heat, more soups and savory meals to fight back winter's cold.

  • Make your own convenience foods.

    Example: I cook much more chili in the winter. I have other recipes I only make in winter, or fall, because they suit the weather. Chili is easy to make; a few rounds of 7 quarts each should be plenty for the winter. I like chili-mac for lunches sometimes, so I may also can some half-pints for that. This is also something where I can make a canner full, and then make more when that runs out.

    Example: Healthy quick meals can be prepped by making and canning soups, chilis, and meatballs. Home-canned meat can be used as a basis for quick meals, and increase your use of local pastured beef – for me, this is seasonal, with spring being the hardest time to get any. Also, if your freezer is full you could can the sale meats.
Drying Foods
  • Benefits: Food dried in season retains nutrients and flavor throughout the winter, and takes up a fraction of the storage space. This is especially nice when you have limited storage space. Some foods also take less of your time to store this way.

    Tomatoes and greens can be rinsed, patted dry, and sliced quickly before placing in the dehydrator. Then, you just take out the dried food when it's ready.

  • Soups (as well as other recipes) can be made ahead in dried form, rehydrated & cooked. I have at least two recipes I’m going to try –I will dehydrate all ingredients, package them together, and see how they come out after simply putting the dry mix in the slow-cooker with water or broth. If it works (I believe it will), I‘ll have wonderful, homemade, dinners for the times I forget to thaw food or plan ahead. Those are the days where I’m drinking my coffee before work and go “Eek! What are we eating tonight?” Dump things in slow cooker, add broth or water, turn on. Come home, stir well, serve. That sounds nice, yes? You can also look for "Gift in a Jar" or "Dinner in a Jar" type recipes, and use these the same way.

  • Unique candies – candied and dried fruits & fruit leathers. We made candied watermelon rinds one summer. Delicious!

Candied Watermelon Rind 2009