Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Filling in the Awkward Spaces

You know that space above the cabinets? At least those of us with the lower end "builders" cabinets do. They do not reach to the ceiling, and in my kitchen, there was only an 11 inch clearance. I would have loved to extend them up, but I also didn't want to spend a fortune and have to work within my physical limitations.
Enter the answer: fabric. I love fabric. It can cover a multitude of sins, and in this case, it gave me some more storage that did not have to look like a house magazine to not feel cluttered. This is a very inexpensive project, less so if you have scraps of fabric to use instead of having to buy new.
Other resources could be sheets at the Goodwill, or yards sales, and a teeny bit of sewing know how. I did these on the machine because with all the straight lines I would have been bored silly doing it by hand, but a back stitch is all you need to know how to do.

This is the finished work. The curtain extends on both sides to the ends of the cupboards.
These are held in place with cup hooks and long dowels from the hardware store. To keep them in the ceiling, I suggest using a lightweight anchor to keep the cup hooks in place. To keep the look streamlined, I slit a very small hole in the fabric where ever there was a hook, I did keep the sections as panels, rather than one long piece. This is to avoid dealing with the whole thing when putting thing away, and will also make washing and putting it back up easier later on. This set up does not have anchors (yet). I was very impatient and just wanted to get them done, but I do strongly suggest a lightweight anchor. Unless your fabric is heavy, that is all you will need.
The top has a pocket hem of just and inch and a half, and the bottom was cut using pinking shears, so just a 1/4 inch hem was needed, but if you worry about strands of threads popping out, you may want to double the hem to hide the edges. The pinking shears tend to keep the fraying down.

Here is is above the sink
The curtains are a little slapped up there. It was a practice embroidered towel I did, but I couldn't bear to wash dishes with it after all that work, so I split it in two, hand sewed a seam and voila!

Monday, June 1, 2015


My strawberries this year are much smaller than last year. I believe fertilizing at the proper time will fix that for next harvest, but until then, the small berries are delicious to eat, if not a little more labor intensive.
When I posted about them on my Facebook page, I noticed that there was interest in growing them, even from people who didn't normally seem inclined towards food gardening before. With that in mind, I am going to share what I have learned about growing strawberries and hook you all up with a couple of places on the internet that I used for sources on growing them. My Sweet Charlie, that I got three years ago was the first time I tried strawberries. I have noticed, as I have gotten older, waiting a year for a good harvest isn't such a big deal. I have heard of people getting a harvest on first year plants, but my first year the blossoms were spare, so I nipped off the buds to redirect that energy towards establishing themselves. Boy, was I rewarded last year!
Other things that are in the works is a video series dealing with cooking from scratch. The point will be to really teach the basics, hopefully in the style of Julia Child. I think that a lot of the issues with people not cooking is that it seems so time consuming and complicated. It can be time consuming if you want to be very complex, but most real cooking was invented by women who did not have the time to spare either as they worked the farm and cared for children and, though many may not believe this, work for money too. Women have worked from the beginning of time, it wasn't until the mid 20th century that there was an expectation of women staying home with the kids.
So, the series will help people learn things like cutting up a chicken, how to make the "mother sauces" only five very simple sauces from which you can make any sauce simply with things you have on hand. There will be lessons on braising (the best way to use cheap, meat cuts if meat is your thing), how to cook vegetables and some down and dirty lessons on fast cooking from what is on hand in your home.
I have other things floating around as ideas for this blog, but they are not formed enough to discuss, but there are things in the works. Remember how I said that thing about patience? I am trying to learn to have some with myself too, as it takes me much longer to create here than I would like. Be patient with me please,

Strawberries 101

First and most importantly, choose your strawberries well. The strawberries you get at the grocery are often hard, and tasteless. This will also be true of your strawberries if you pick the same variety, which is grown for size and toughness. The one thing you really don't want your berries to be are "tough", they are delicate and that is why this time of year is eagerly awaited by my family as this is when the "real" berries come out, reminding us why, despite the heat, summer is one of the very best times of year.
Strawberries have two major types. One is "June bearing" which is exactly what it sounds like. The other consists of varieties that are "everbearing", which means that they do not give one large crop, but continuously bloom and produce as long as the weather is good. June bearers do flower out of their season, and it is up to you to allow it or not. I prefer to take off the blooms after the June crops have finished to help focus the plants attention on renewing itself (themselves) for the next year. This year I also planted a bunch of everbearers, but they are in their first year, so I am not expecting anything.
You also want a berry that is good for the climate you are in. The Sweet Charlie is good from zones 5-8, for those not understanding the zones, 8 is pretty much the coldest the US gets (outside of Alaska, poor Alaska, we never count you lol). I am in Zone 6a. "A" represents a "microclimate" large enough to be named within the zone. That means that while I have a cold night, often, just up the road, there is actual frost on the ground. This is important to know when protecting plants. I learned about the microclimates when researching why my rosemary always dies when left outside, even when sheltered. Zone 6 is the most cold a rosemary plant can handle, and then, only certain varieties living in certain microclimates survive our winters. This is information you want regarding your strawberries. Sweet Charlie has a lot of disease and pest resistance, and it one of the more popular varieties for the colder areas of the United States. If you are interested in the specifics, please refer to, and they have everything you would want to know about strawberries. What I put here is what I have learned so far, which isn't nearly as much as is on the site, but should be good as a "quick start" for someone wanting to give strawberries a try.
If you want a nice cold weather perennial garden, there are ways to grow strawberries in the same beds as Asparagus for a great Spring crop.

First Things First

Choose a place for your beds. There are many ways to grow strawberries, and I chose the easiest at the time for me, but not necessarily the best. I learned the hard way that I need to make use of the internet about everything I plant, because even though I grew up with gardens, there is still a lot I do not know.
You want one of the sunniest, most well drained spots in your yard. For me that meant growing in a mound. I planted six plants in two rows of three, well spaced apart. As they establish themselves, they throw out "runners" which have daughter plants (clones), which will take over if you do not keep an eye on them. This will matter in the finally configuration of your bed.
You want to dig down about six inches if you are making a traditional bed. Into that mix good amounts of compost that has been well rotted, or well rotted manure, or both. Strawberries like a nice rich soil, and compost is the best (and cheapest) way to achieve that. The plants can be spaced pretty far apart (up to two feet) and will fill in very quickly. If you want neat rows like you see at pick it yourself places, you will need to keep an eye on the runners and carefully lift and set into soil where you want them. If you have had spider plants, you should recognize this type of reproduction in plants.
Strawberries also needs lots of water. I mostly hand water, but as soon as my gutters are fixed, I will be putting in a barrel and hooking up a system of drip irrigation with that. Until then, I hand water. The first year they will not need any fertilizer if you prepared your beds, or rows, well.

Since they have shallow root systems, mulch is a must. Mulch will help keep water from evaporating into the air and drying out the bed, and will also help supress weeds as the strawberries establish themselves. I prefer to use straw or saltwater hay for this. Both will contribute to the soil as they rot away. Straw is probably best, but the bales are large and I would be using it for my other garden plants as well. If you do not have guaranteed snow cover in the winter, it is advisable to heap straw over them in the Fall to protect them from the frigid temperatures when there is no benefit of snow cover in the offerings.

Now What?

Now that you have chosen your site and configuration of the bed, dug in some compost and made sure the bed would be well drained, it is time to plant. I planted my bare root stock, which is how strawberries are usually sold, 2 feet apart in a rectangle configuration. If you look at this post again, you will see that they filled out amazingly, so if you are going for neat rows, make sure that the root stock are planted at least three feet from each other, leaving a nice 2 foot path in between to make upkeep a bit easier to do. I am kind of lucky in that my mound is separating naturally, so I don't feel so badly about stepping in the middle to pick the berries. This is how they looked the very first year after planting them in the fall after raking away the salt water hay I used to cover them for the winter.

Here is a photo of the second year:

And here we are this year

They yellowing and upturned leaves show that when this picture was taken the soil was dried out, and I believe they needed a little magnesium. It is probably best to test the soil for this, but I went ahead and gave them a nice Epsom Salts drink around this time. They were not covered the year before due to not having money to buy the straw or hay, and we did not mow them over in the fall as we did the year before. Both of these things will be remedied this year.

So, you can see that they spread very fast. Make sure you keep this in mind when picking out a spot. This year we included some every bearers into the mix. They are growing on the borders of my vegetable patch.

The defined border was created just by piling rocks around the area prepared for the strawberries. These will have to be watched carefully to keep them from taking over the rest of the garden. At least if they do run roughshod, I get some juicy jewels out of the deal. That is a take over I can get behind.

Another thing to strongly consider is how to protect your berries as they ripen. The red will attract fruit and seed eating birds, so I would suggest picking up some cheap netting to protect your beautiful fruits.

To Sum Up

1. Research and purchase the best strawberries for your climate and needs.
2. Choose a sunny, well drain site for your strawberry rootstock.
3.. Dig in compost or well aged manure into the beds, water well.
4. Plant strawberries at least 2 feet apart, water in well.
5. In the fall of the first year, cover high with straw until Spring.
6. In the first year, it is better to go without the berries and pick off the blossoms so that they become well established.
7. In the second year, mow well and cover with straw in the Fall before the first frost is best.
8. Don't forget to start thinking about how to protect them as they ripen.

My second year I picked over 20 pounds of strawberries from six plants (I planted seven, but one was dug up by the squirrels.

I hope that this helps people looking to grow strawberries. I advise really researching anything you want to grow before purchasing seeds or plants. This is a suggestion based on my own experiences, I wish I had been more thorough the first year with my plantings, fortunately there were not huge losses, but lessons were learned.

Another site that I use to get information on specific plants is: Garden.Org which has planting guides and helpful articles regarding a number of plants and is an excellent jumping off point to begin your research. I also use this Garden Planner which you can try free the first year. If you choose to continue, you will be able to use your old plans in the next year to help plan around a rotation. The plans will flash red in places that a specific plant should not be grown that year. Totally worth the subscription, especially if you make use of the videos they made. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

My Eggsalent Adventure

I have a confession. I never knew how to boil an egg.
Sure, I would draw water over a pile of eggs in a pan, bring it to a boil, turn off the heat and let them cook in the ambient heat so that each egg was pure yellow (or gold) in the center with no hint of grey or green. The fail was in the peeling. Every time I would lose most of the egg white with the shell. Soaking in ice water, pricking shells, adding baking soda.. I tried it all. Still, to get half a dozen pretty looking eggs for say, deviled eggs, I would have to boil a dozen, and even the presentable ones would have mars to the white. I had about given up.
Then, one night, while re-watching The French Chef, I saw Julia Child prick the large end of an egg before boiling to prevent the eggs from spilling out if there were microscopic cracks in the egg shell. One of the main reasons for starting eggs in cold water is to prevent that from happening. She did a semi, not really, scientific experiment to show that pricking the egg does help the tension of the expanding, cooking egg, and seemed to prevent the spill out that sometimes happens.
I took it to the next level. My understanding of eggs, though limited in a scientific sense, was that sharp temperature changes are key to making the shell loose enough so that the inner membrane doesn't stick to the egg white. What if I started it in hot water? What if I used the pin prick technique in order to be able to reliably start the eggs with boiling water. Would that help? Indeed it did! A few dozen eggs later, and different types of eggs, I was convinced I had found the answer. What I do not have is access to super fresh eggs. I have used farm fresh eggs, but I am fairly certain they still sat around for a little while.
Now I boil eggs just for the joy of peeling them so effortlessly. They do literally fall right off if you follow this procedure. I would appreciate a shout out if it also works on those seriously fresh, straight out of the chicken, eggs.

How to Hard Boil and Peel an Egg

Gently prick a hole in the large end of each egg. It is better to do it while you are holding the egg. This way could get you some broken eggs.

All four poked

Place in a large saucepan

The egg with the "X" on it was not pierced. See what happens when I pour boiling water over them?

Carefully pour out the hot water after 10 minutes

Smash the eggs around a bit to crack the shells

Run cold water over them. Fresher eggs should sit in the water a few minutes. These are regular eggs, so I could peel them immediately.

Peel the eggs. Watch the video below and be amazed.

This is the egg I did not pierce first. It peeled easy though.

All done, the one in the upper left is the non pierced one.

Perfectly cooked. If you prefer them a little more done, leave to cook for an additional 2 minutes. I like them just barely cooked hard. So good with a dab of butter!

Here is the video my daughter took of me peeling one of the eggs. It just slips right off!

Now that you can boil eggs perfectly, why not try your hand at these little cutie pies this Spring? 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Waste Not, Want Not

In honor of Massachusetts passing a "no food waste" bill for places that serve hot foods, I am taking up a challenge of "no food waste" in my own home.
Having the privilege of a garbage disposal, it is very easy to lose sight of how much food, good edible food, gets wasted due to poor planning or simple laziness. While I do compost quite a lot, I am limited because of close neighbors and too much neighborhood vermin (not necessarily the same thing *wink*), as well as city laws which prohibit feeding the wild life. All it takes is someone to get a wild hair across their ass and I am being fined for "feeding the wild life". I know, I know.
So far, I have instituted a worm bin, and have a contained compost outside for some of the overflow of scraps and waste. I also have a "less is more" rule when it comes to food. Take a just a little. If you are still hungry, there is more (usually), but it is less likely that food left on a plate will be saved if not eaten.
Still, there is a LOT of waste. I am embarrassed to admit that I have had to throw out, in this past month alone, one whole roasting chicken and 2 smallish round roasts. Partly, it is because I had some flares and 'sodes that prevented me from taking care of it right away, and partly is was piss poor planning. This was food intended for processing and storing, but I had too much to do at once, and with the pain I could not do as much as I needed to. So, wasted food and money, money we do not have and will have to come out of something else, like my med and doctor co pays, or holding off on paying the monthly mortgage in full. That is not acceptable. It is also not acceptable that all of the resources connected to growing that food were wasted too. Meat uses a LOT of resources, so I am especially perturbed at wasting meat, which cannot be composted or used in another way.
The first step is to create a menu. I have often created weekly menus, using the sales flyer and current food stores to save money and cut back on waste. The problems with doing just a weekly menu is that it must be done more often, which means it is unlikely to be done every single week, increasing the problem of food waste. My answer was to come up with a monthly plan, based more on the types of sales one sees during that season. I plan to have several monthly meal plans set up to easily mix and match, so that eventually, I will not have to create one at all. Doing this in excel makes it much easier to play around with various menus so that each month is personalized, working with current sales and most importantly, what is in season to work with.
This months menu took me two full days to create, but please, do not let that stop you. First, it takes me longer to do things than it used to, so my timeline is not yours. Second, I used an Excel worksheet that someone else made up, so I had to not only make the menu, but go through all of the recipes and create a standardized way of converting all of the ingredients so that it would produce a workable grocery list. Since the menu is for an entire month, and there are still a couple months in Autumn left, if I cannot make another next month, this one is easy to reuse since there is a different meal for each day. A monthly rotation leaves a lot more variety than a weekly one.
Besides using an Excel workbook, I also made a cuisine for each day of the week. Monday is "meatless" or at least "nearly meatless", Tuesday is Italian, Wednesday is soup, Thursday is Pizza (homemade is the plan, but at least ordering one is  not' expensive), Friday is for family comfort foods, Saturday is up in the air as a way to either use up left overs or foods that were not used from the last shopping trip because, well, life does happen, And Sunday is a family dinner type meal like roast chicken or lasagna, something that I associate with big family dinners. I also try to keep leftovers from meals in mind while planning.
Here is a screen shot of my meal plan:

You should be able to find templates for many different types of planners, all free, just do a search using your favorite search engine.

When there are mistakes, there needs to be a way to take care of the possible waste. I like different preserving practices, and they all have excellent uses, but currently I am using the dehydrator because I find that it is easy to store, and easy to do.

My husband accidentally got 5 extra pounds of organic carrots and 3 English cucumbers too many for our meals last week, so I have dehydrated shredded carrots as well as sliced some and blanched them for use in soups and such. There is also 1/2 large cucumbers worth of slices flavored with cinnamon and sugar for crispy snacks, but that is an experiment I will share if they turn out properly tasty and edible.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I Have Yum Yums!

The pain has really been taking a toll on me the past few months. It is very difficult to think about food when concentrating on just getting important things accomplished. Still, with all the lovely fresh tomatoes coming from my garden, and the wonderful surprise of beautiful carrots, I had no choice but to cook (and preserve) the bounty. So far, I have canned up salsas and tomatoes (cut up and as a plain sauce) and dehydrated a lot of zucchini and such, which is terrific (and will be blogged about another time), but the real treats have been the new recipes I have created to take care of some of the glut.

My first two recipes were created in tandem. I was whipping up some American Chop Suey and decided that, as will all foods, bacon would be a perfect boost to flavor. I could not bear to waste all that flavorful fat, so I sauteed onions in it for the dish, but realized that I made too much, so 1/2 a cup of the now cooked onions were set aside for the salad.
I also made a delicious pot roast last night. My son came by in the morning, and after poking around in the garden in the cool morning air, we walked (or I hobbled) to the local butcher to see what he had. There, I picked up five pounds of chicken backs for stock as well as 2 1/2 pounds of chuck roast. There was little fat on it, especially for a chuck roast, but it cooked up nicely in wine and dried tomatoes from last season.

I do not have pictures of everything, that tends to be one of the last things on the list to do, and as I mentioned, it has been rough these past weeks.

Without further ado, here we go.

Beef Pot Roast with Mushrooms and "Sun Dried" Tomatoes


2 1/2 pounds beef chuck roast
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup dried tomatoes, not in oil (I used dried cherry tomatoes from last seasons garden)
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, smashed and roughly chopped (I cut into quarters then slice them)
2 sprigs of rosemary
salt and pepper
3 large white potatoes, peeled and halved
1/2 pound or more of carrots (carrots have a strong flavor, so just enough to serve the number of folks eating) trimmed and scraped when necessary.
8 oz sliced mushrooms, roughly chopped if large
2 Tablespoons flower
2 Tablespoons butter

I use my slow cooker to make this, but it will work wonderfully on the stove top too. Just cook it on a very low simmer rather than use the slow cooking instructions. Alternative, you can use the oven on a low setting, but you will have to experiment as I have no oven to work with currently.

Since my slow cooker has an insert I can use on the stove top, I do that. Everyone else should use a heavy saute pan of some sort, just be sure it is non reactive as the wine can cause a reaction with some metals. Non reactive would be enameled cast iron, cast iron that is VERY WELL seasoned. My pans are well over a hundred years old, and I do not feel confident they are sealed enough, but that is me based on my having tried making tomato sauce in the darned things for years before figuring out why it tasted "off" all the time. Other pans to use are stainless steel or anything with a non stick surface, though the fond won't be as nice from non stick.

Salt the beef and sear in a pan on high heat using a touch of oil just to keep the sticking down a bit. The browned bits are full of flavor, so you don't need to keep it from sticking entirely, we just don't want burned bits rather than deep brown. Give it a really good sear, your patience will be rewarded (thank you Alton Brown).

Remove browned beef from the pan and add the onions. Keep an eye on it and stir until they start to get translucent. Add the garlic and cook until the smell of the garlic wafts up from the pan. Add the wine, starting with 1/2 cup to deglaze the pan. Continue adding the wine and let cook for a bit to help dull the alcohol flavor a bit. Add the beef back to the pan along with the dried tomatoes and set on high for one hour and turn to low for two more hours.

Prepare the vegetables. These are small carrots from my garden that were just gorgeous, so I left some of the stem and cleaned them very thoroughly, as well as scraping the skins off of the ones that were bumpy to be sure I removed all of the dirt. Peel the potatoes (I find the larger whites have tough skins, but if you are using younger white potatoes or red skinned types, you can leave the skin on)

Put the vegetables and rosemary in the pot, turn to high for one hour and then back to low until the vegetables are cooked through, another two hours.

To make the gravy, add the butter to a frying or saute pan and cook the mushrooms until the liquid escapes, dissipates, and the mushrooms start to brown. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes to get the raw flavor of flour out. Strain the pan juices and slowly add to the pan until you reach your desired thickness. Remember to keep it a bit thin as it will thicken as soon as it starts to cool a little.


Are they not gorgeous?
I have no pictures for the next two recipes. At least I do not right now, but it was so delicious I could not, not share.

American Chop Suey Michele Style

1 pound ground beef
6 slices good bacon
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds of plum tomatoes, peeled and cut up
1 cup chicken stock (broth will work, but the gelatin in the stock makes this amazing)
2 cups shaped pasta (traditionally elbows, but I used campenelle which was perfect)

Cook the bacon until brown and just crispy. Do not over cook as it will taste "off". Remove the bacon to drain. Pour out the fat, leaving two tablespoons for cooking the onion. Add the onions and cook until translucent and just slightly starting to caramelize. Remove 1/2 cup of onion for use in salad. Add garlic to pan and cook until the smell of the garlic wafts from the pan to your face. Remove vegetables to a bowl.
Brown the ground beef. Leave some nice lumps, you want something to chew in this. Drain the beef and add the vegetables back in along with the tomatoes and stock, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add pasta, cover and cook ten minutes more or until pasta is al dente. Add four slices of lightly crumbled bacon and stir. (the other two slices are for the salad)

Snow White Salad

I call this Snow White salad because that is the type of tomatoes I used and they are fabulous. Substitutions can be any sweet tasting tomato, preferably a cherry or grape variety.


1-2 cups of Snow White cherry tomatoes, cut in halves.
2 big handfuls of baby spinach, well washed and trimmed
1/2 cup of onions cooked in bacon fat
2 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Pinch of salt, if required (to taste)

This is easy, just toss it all together in a bowl. The onions should not be hot, but warm is fine. The amount of mayonnaise is a suggestion, there is no need to use a lot, just enough to make a light dressing with the juices from the tomatoes and the flavors from the bacon and onions. Serve immediately, this salad does not keep well, to my eternal sadness.

Stay tuned for my laundry detergent tests, making dishwasher discs, and other fun things I have been doing this season aside from gardening.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Cheepah Chicken

Okay, maybe I am the only one who remembers "Father of the Bride" with Steve Martin, but hey, the title makes me giggle and it is what goes through my head whenever I get chicken. I am not a huge fan of chicken generally, which is unfortunate because a whole chicken is a budgeting dream. This fryer was regularly 1.49 a pound, and while the roasters are .20 cents less, they are also much bigger. With a small family and only one large appetite, the smaller ones work better for us. That and the roasters tend to be less tasty when fried, which is what the legs will be used for.
Since I am usually not well, the idea of spending "spoons" making a grocery list and menu within a budget, and then going to the store and fighting the masses, then lugging it all home, putting it away and starting to process meats and fruits for use, it is a bit too much. I have lost a lot of meat and vegetables trying to do it all, even in a few days, so now I often go through Peapod online. My husband can pick it up for free, and that way doesn't have to work so hard after working so hard at the job all day. I have learned how to keep within a budget this way, and have stopped buying some things that are much more expensive through the service than if we went down ourselves. All of that was a lead up to saying that I got two chickens by accident. This worked out for you all, because after I processed one bird, I had my husband come in and take some photos of the second one to share on this blog. I would like to apologize in advance for the photo set up. The pictures were great, but I had to compile them like this to keep the page from loading improperly. They also seem somewhat over-sized for the blogger format even though I used their settings. This is the smallest I could set them and still be able to see anything.

Each chicken left me with:

2 boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 pound of chicken tenders
2 drumsticks
2 thighs
2 wings
1 carcass, bag of innards plus scraps for stock
1 liver which I freeze in a container until I have enough to do something with.
2 quarts of clear chicken broth

Keep in mind that there are more than one way to process a chicken. If I were making a large fried chicken dinner, for example, I would have kept the breasts on the bone and cut each half in half again. If I wanted to also serve chicken wings at the same time, I would have cut them off slightly different, so that they would have more meat on them from the breast. In this case, my husband has been helping with the cooking a lot and is a bit leery of cooking meat on bones, so I went ahead and boned the breasts which gave me more bones for the stock pot.

The one thing that will save your sanity while doing this very simple task is preparation. Yes, processing a chicken from the market is pretty simple. Once you do it a couple of times you will be a pro and wonder why you haven't been doing this all along.
Clean your work surface thoroughly and remove any clutter. You will need:

1 large cutting board
Various knives, I use my 8 inch chefs, Sontuku and paring knives
Poultry shears, these are not a "must" but they do make some of the jobs easier
Soft headed mallet, OR a nice heavy cleaver
2 clothes, one sanitary one that is not to be used with any of the actual chicken or juices, and one that is okay to wipe your hands on, it should be immediately put in the wash after as salmonella bacteria spread pretty easily and cross contamination is how most folks end up sick from it.
Paper towels
1 bowl for livers
1 bowl for chicken wings
1 bowl or plate for finished parts
1 large stock pot, if you have any bags of scraps saved for stock, now is the time to put that in right off.
1 wash cloth
Dish soap for clean up and washing hands. You will wash your hands a lot.

Set up your work space, making sure everything is easy to get to. I keep the wash cloth rinsed and by the sink so I can use it to turn on the faucet to avoid cross contamination from my chickeny hands.

This is part of my set up. As you do this more often, you will find your own way that works best for you.

First, remove the wings

For a better view of the photos, right click and choose "open image in new tab". When your cursor is over the photo, you should see it become a magnifying glass with a + inside of it. Just click on the photo to make it original size.

Next we take the legs and thighs

Removing the back will help with boning the breast

De-boning a breast is easy!

When I was done I had a bowl of chicken parts, a stock pot of extra bits for the stock and froze the liver separately for another use one day down the line. I also freeze my wings separately until I have enough for a meal, because buying them pre-cut is ridiculously expensive.

I have a new found respect for folks who blog actual step by steps with photos now. Practice makes perfect.. right?  Practice applies to cutting up your own chicken too. My husband took a lot of pictures, but the best ones where the ones when I was not trying to show anything, because it has become second nature to me. It is like trying to say the alphabet without the song, something you have to think about, otherwise you just do it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The July Round Up

I would be lying if I said that I haven't been a little disappointed with this years crops so far. Although my zucchini are looking really healthy, many of the baby fruits are shriveling before they become more than 1/2 inch wide (there are 8 ball zuccs, so they are round), the raspberries did produce well for the number of plants I think, but I was expecting enough to do something other than a syrup with, and the garlic was really tiny, much smaller than the bulb the cloves came from. Also, every time I plant lettuce, chard or spinach, something comes in and decides to flutter about in it, so all of my carefully placed seeds end up in piles, meaning any seeds that sprout are so close together that I lose more through thinning than I should. I try to transplant them back where they started, but they haven't been sturdy as of yet.

On the up side, and there is definitely an up side, I have harvested and eaten quite a lot. Oddly, despite the old French ways of cooking vegetables (braising a delicate lettuce like Boston Bibb for two hours? Really?), re watching old "The French Chef" tapes helped me to see how to circumvent some of the waste. For example, my family just won't make salad. It only gets made if I can stand up long enough to make it myself, and even then there are moans of sadness when it is presented on the plate. My husband seems most hostile to it.

So, when several pounds of it bolted in the garden, I despaired, until I saw Julia Child braise that unsuspecting lettuce. What if I peeled the thick stem that was bolting? I experimented and found that it tastes a lot like asparagus! Some of the leaves were also saved, but more was wasted than eaten because the tough ones and the ones with even a little of the red that happens once bolting starts was simply way too bitter for my family's taste buds. What was left though was excellent. If I have more in the future I will try to make something more interesting than a short braise with butter, salt, and pepper on it. One step at a time.

As stated before, the Mouse Melons are really happy where they are growing with my last remaining cabbage. I allowed a couple to get very big, but found that, like their cousins, they start to get more seedy and bitter as they get bigger. I will be saving some seeds from these plants though, because I am definitely growing more next year.

Even though the zucchini have been slow to produce viable fruit, I did get two lovely ones that were put together with some of the tomatoes into a gratin of sorts, with buttered bread crumbs and a tiny amount of Swiss cheese (told you, Julia...)

Harvest from today and some of yesterday's harvest too (at least the part that wasn't eaten)
Yes, the picture is from August. July was a tough month to even manage the basics of the garden, so no pictures. Okay, that is partly because my kitchen was a mess and I generally didn't have enough spoons to clean AND snap photos. Below are the totals for July only. I haven't posted amounts for June other than the 20 pounds of strawberries which still amazes me.

Rhubarb: 1 pound 9 oz
Garlic: six really small heads. Tasty, but small
Lettuce: 2 pounds 3 oz of Salad type leaves and over 3 pounds of bolting stems and leaves. This was supposed to be a head type lettuce, but that never happened.
Raspberries: 11.5 oz
Swiss Chard: 1 pound 8 oz
Mouse Melons:  1 pound 7 oz
Carrots: a few spindly bits, not enough to weigh really.
Snow Peas: not even a full handful over the course of the month.
Cabbages:  3 pounds 8 oz I planted three heads, one is still in the ground, the other two are making sauerkraut. :)
Patio Princess: 6 oz (large cherry tomatoes or small regular ones)
Snow White: 3.25 oz (cherry tomatoes)
Plum: 4 oz
And many bunches of basil, cinnamon basil, mint, flat leaf parsley, chives and snippets of other herbs like rosemary and French tarragon.

The tomatoes are heavy on the vines though, I expect a lot of ripening in the next couple of weeks.

For the record, here was the June harvest:

Strawberries: 20 pounds (can you tell how happy I am about that? LOL)
Rhubarb: 2 pounds (maybe a bit more, I let some sit outside and get ruined after harvesting)
Broccoli Rabe: 14.75 oz (test crop)
Bok Choy: 2 pounds
Spinach: 6 oz
Lettuce 1 pound 6 oz
Radishes: 6 oz
Kale: 1 pound
Swiss Chard: 1.5 oz
Assorted herbs

Seasonal Foods For Massachusetts