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

Ingredients:

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.

Serve!

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.

Ingredients:

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. :)
Tomatoes:
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

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Really Good Buy

Since the weather will not be cool enough in my kitchen for pastries or candies any time soon, I am just posting this here without a recipe or anything to get the word out before these are gone.


This is a good sized (16x20) marble slab with feet that is 5/8 inch thick. I notice that it does slide on my cheapo countertops, but that is easily fixed. These marble slabs are also available (sans feet) at tiles at some hardware/tile type stores, but I have not been able to find anything of comparable size in the same price range. This link is an affiliate link and will take you to Amazon to purchase it. It is also available straight from Sur La Table and is not Prime eligible. It cost under 8 dollars to ship, which was still a deal for me.

Getting Ready for Second Sowing

It has been difficult getting out to the garden to do more than very urgent weeding and watering. I may have this a bit more under control, with drugs unfortunately. Still, it gets me out in the garden for a little longer than usual, and that is A Good Thing™.  I am going to show some pictures that are already on the blog side by side with what I have going on now. This was a last minute decision because I saw the pictures from just under two weeks ago and was amazed at the difference in such a short time. I feel like I waited forever for the garden to take off, so here is some photographic proof that it is actually progressing pretty well.

This is most of my backyard as seen today, 26 July 2014. In the foreground is my sweet old puppy Molly who has chosen to start coming outside on her own for the first time in her life. She is 13 years old, so you can teach an old dog new tricks! 
This is how things are shaping up so far:
This is the three sisters on July 1
Here are the Three Sisters on July 14

And here are the Three Sisters today, July 26 !

 That is some serious growth. The corn is looking good and I have been checking the zucchini on a daily basis to see if the vine borers made it through the dirt again. So far the plants are very healthy looking, but the fruits are yellowing before they even shed the flower. I was told that they may not be being (or beeing, hee hee) pollinated, so I went out there with a makeup brush to do the deed myself, but haven't found any male flowers. These are the 8 ball zucchini, so if you know anything, please drop a comment. I saved one that managed to grow a little, but the blossom end looked a bit eaten, so I cut it down and added it to omelets the other night.

Here is a picture of my sadness:

See how it is turning yellow from the blossom end and the blossom end looks a little like rot, like happens with tomatoes sometimes? These have been fertilized with seaweed several times, and they have been planted with beans that were treated with enzymes to hold the nitrogen.

There is a lot more happiness than sadness though. Remember my experiment with Mouse Melons (or Mexican Gherkins, or a few other names)? Well, I believe that they have been a success so far. The growth is amazing and I can't seem to keep up with making trellises for the plants.

This was the bed with the mouse melons in them July 1 (on the left). Two of the three of these cabbages are now sitting on my counter turning into sauerkraut. It looks divine.
Here are the mouse melons just two weeks later, after I had created a trellis with some old supports from the compost pile and rough twine. Oh, and another stick, those suckers are taking off like crazy.
Here is how I found the mouse melons this afternoon. I am definitely going to need a better trellis system set up before the wild growing time.

I was out there this morning at 5:30 am and picked all of the large mouse melons that I could find. When I came out this afternoon to take pictures, look at what I found. It most assuredly was not that large this morning. These things are prolific. I love it! Makes me look like I have a green thumb and stuff.

It pulled one of the metal poles over! Mind you, these are just five of the seedlings that I planted. I started 10 seeds inside and they all germinated.

Here is two of the cabbages I grew. The third is staying outside until I can think of what to do with it. This soon to be sauerkraut is two full weeks old and has stayed perfectly colored. I am very please. Last year I used Savoy, and a plastic bag of brine to keep the cabbage under, but the savoy didn't have the liquid I think that was needed to really work out. I am very pleased so far. The jar inside is just to give a little displacement to keep everything submerged.









This is "Bed Three". The plum tomatoes are growing everywhere and I can't keep up with nipping the suckers, but there are a lot of them. I thought that these were determinate, but now I am not so sure. In the center are two red pepper plants and two jalapeno with some basil and nasturtiums keeping everyone company.

Not the best photo editing every, but I never claimed to be good at it. :) On the left are jalapenos and the right are (or will be) red peppers. 

This is "Bed Four", and in it are more tomatoes, some basil that is barely alive (it looks eaten) and two pickling cucumber plants that I bought because I misplaced my cucumber seeds somewhere and it was getting late in the season. This is my "Hail Mary" so to speak.


My parsley went wild in the asparagus bed! I also have a bunch of asparagus spears coming up amongst the ferns. That was unexpected.

I should have taken pictures earlier. These are my raspberries plants, but it is the end of the first run, so there are not a lot ripe at one time now. Next year there should be a bigger crop and my neighbor said that she would be happy to give me more canes. Now I just have to expand a bit. Any volunteers to do all the actual work? 

Maybe to some the sight of a tall sunflower growing strong is not too big of a deal. For me, it is a bit of a miracle as I have never been able to grow these guys past the first two permanent leaves. So, yay!
I have planted more chard and spinach seed, but it looks as though some of the local animals are scraping around in there. I have to come up with a feasible cover idea for my direct sow vegetables as this happens all the time.
Also a shout out to my husband who did a fabulous mowing job to help me avoid ticks on the pets and family as well as getting the weeds that may have been seeding away from my lovely garden beds.

How does your garden grow?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mouse Melons are Here!

I have two major gardening experiments this year. One is the basket of potatoes, which should be ready to harvest soon, so I will write about that when it happens. The other was the planting of Mouse Melons or Mexican Sour Gherkins.

These little viners are taking over! I didn't have more than ten seeds, and these plants are very small as far as space needed between them, but the five that I think made it through the transplant have completely taken over one side of one of my four by four raised beds. This is not a bad thing, I love seeing a plant thrive. It makes me tickly on the inside.

According to all the literature, these bitty melons are supposed to hit about 2 inches, but these ones are far smaller as you will see. I was noticing some yellow on them, so, if they are like cucumbers, I would rather pick early than end up with a bitter fruit.

Mouse Melons I picked today. These are also sold as Mexican Sour Gherkins and a couple other names.

I was so excited I popped one right in my mouth, washing be damned! I avoided eating any bugs in my haste, and was very surprised at the huge flavor in such a little fruit. This tastes the way I expected the Lemon Cucumbers to taste. They taste just like cucumbers, but with a twang of lemon. The first bite registered as a little bitter, but that immediately fell away to the true nature of this lovely little curbit. (I believe the jury is still out on its full classification, but the more formal name is Melothria scabra). The lemon flavor is light, but really refreshing, I really can't explain how much I like these. So far it seems that I will be getting many, many fruits to experiment with over the summer, so stay tuned!