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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Orange You Glad We're Upgrading Our Kitchen?

So I've been busy these past 2 weeks. When we moved into our house, the original kitchen color was an 80's salmon pink...bleh. I had it painted to a favorite terra cotta/burnt orange and now I deeply regret it.

Our oak floors and oak cabinets, with the orange walls....TOO MUCH ORANGE! What was I thinking?

In addition the previous owners installed a dark, slate-colored 6"x 6" tile as a backsplash and around the counter. The final push to start this project was when the entire cap of tiles on the end of the counter fell off last year. Not only did the previous owners choose a crappy tile, the person who installed it did a bad job.

Everything is just too dark and too orange and it's been driving me nuts.


This is my Photoshop inspired upgrade. I downloaded a kitchen image from Pintrest that had the exact layout as mine, but a little smaller, and made the changes I wanted. If this is your kitchen, I apologize and thank you for the inspiration.



Basically, I am:

  • Removing the tile from around the counter and installing bead board. 
  • Painting the cabinets white and installing new hardware. 
  • Removing the old backsplash and installing glass tile. 
  • Installing a ducted and vented range hood. 
  • Raising the top trim of the old cabinets to where there is less space between the top and the ceiling (no more dust farms). 
  • Removing the cabinet to the left of the window and installing open, rustic shelving
  • Repainting the whole room to BM's Revere Pewter
  • Installing a new light fixture above the sink

I am doing all of this on my own with the exception of installing the range hood ducting in the ceiling and painting. Chances are there will be pieces of ceiling cut out to install the ducting to the outside and I am hiring a painter to patch the ceiling, which will then need painting, and then painting the room. I figure that I will be out of steam at that point and it's important to get drywall patching right. 

So far, things are coming along...updates coming soon!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Spanish-Style White Bean, Kale, and Chorizo Soup

I received the most awesome surprise gift from my friend Mary at Two Sisters last week. She sent me a sausage package from Pig-Of-The-Month that contained: 2 Lamb and Orange Salamis, 1 package of Andouille sausage, 1 package of chorizo sausage, and 1 BBQ piece of Pork Shoulder.

Is that an amazing friend or what? I am a very lucky lady!

Immediately I started searching around for a good recipe for that chorizo and came across the Spanish-Style White Bean, Kale, and Chorizo Soup recipe at the Cooking Channel. This sounded like the perfect dish to eat on a cold winter evening, so I went for it.

The chorizo was AMAZING and quite spicy in the heat department. It really was the primary flavoring profile for the entire dish. Lots of cumin, oregano, and red pepper. The soup came across as more of a white bean chili and it was great with a piece of cornbread and a Corona beer. I would definitely make this again.



Spanish-Style White Bean, Kale, and Chorizo Soup
Recipe source: The Cooking Channel
recipe adjustments made by me

1 1b. dry white beans (I used Cannelloni)
8 1/2 cups chicken broth
1-2 bay leaves
1 pinch saffron threads
2 tablespoons of olive oil
4 Spanish Chorizo sausages (either chopped or removed from casings)
1 large onion, medium chop
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 red-bell pepper, medium chop
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 bunch of kale, about 3/4 lb., tough stems removed, washed well, and coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Sherry vinegar to taste (about 1/2 tablespoon)

Soak the beans overnight in a bowl, covered by at least 2-3 inches of water.

The next day, drain the beans and place them in a large pot. Pour in 8 cups of the chicken broth, add the bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the beans, partially covered, for approximately 2 hours or until tender. Remove the bay leaves.

Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of chicken broth in a cup and add the saffron threads to soak.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. If your chorizo is an aged, harder style, chop it into 1-inch pieces. In my case, my chorizo was fresh, so I simply squeezed it out of the casings. Saute the chorizo in the oil, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate.

Add the onion, reduce the heat to a medium, and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the red-bell pepper and the paprika. Cook for 2 minutes longer, then transfer the contents of the skillet to the bean pot. Feel free to deglaze the saute pan with some ladled chicken broth from the beans to get all that yummy fond on the bottom of the pan! Add that to the bean pot too.

Stir in the saffron soaking with chicken broth to the bean pot. Add the chorizo and the kale. Bring back to a simmer and cook until the kale is wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the vinegar, and serve hot.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Winter Sowing

About 15 years ago, I came across a completely alien concept of gardening to me. It basically described a process of sowing flower, herb, and vegetable seeds in covered containers in the middle of winter, and then placing those containers outside to deal with the elements...snow, ice, and all. The sowing rate for this method was extremely high and it seemed so effortless. How could that be?

At the time, I was living in Florida and was jealous of how northern gardeners were able to catch such a break. Growing anything in Florida was hard work, despite its image of being a lush paradise, so just putting some seeds in some dirt and leaving them alone for months was incomprehensible. I printed out that information I found 15 years ago and saved it. I knew, even then, that someday I would move from Florida and get to experience a whole other gardening world.

We moved up here to Virginia 4 1/2 years ago. The first two years were spent renting a home and getting grounded to where we were. We bought our house 2 1/2 years ago and I was finally able to pull out those pages I printed and get to work.

Turns out, winter sowing (what it is called) has become very trendy. Take a few minutes and go on Pintrest to find out for yourself. I gave it a stab last year and was truly amazed that every single thing I winter sowed sprouted. Every. Single. Thing.

Last year I planted in styrofoam cups that were placed inside Rubbermaid tubs, but found they dried out very easily and needed a lot of pampering. I also used sterilized potting mix, which although the seeds sprouted, they were missing the extra nutrients. This year, I used regular ole', pre-fertilized potting mix and just placed it in my tubs. Here's hoping...


The concept of winter sowing is based on that most seeds require some form of stratification (cold hibernation) in order to sprout. Most sowing failures occur because there wasn't enough or any stratification in place. In fact, some seeds won't sprout without it. By planting the seeds in protected, mini-greenhouses in the winter time, the seeds get their stratification and are protected from the elements.


Most people simply use empty milk jugs, just as long as some filtered light can come in. I wanted to plant on a bigger scale and not have a "milk jug ghetto" in my yard. Winter sowing containers have to have holes drilled in the bottoms and tops for drainage and ventilation, and there needs to be at least 4" of soil depth.

When you plant the seeds, you water the soil with warm water ONE TIME, put the lid on and forget about it until spring. Any snow or rain will filter in from the holes in the top of the tubs and provide additional moisture and the lids prevent over evaporation. You can see in the image above that there is ice on the inside of the lid.


The seeds I plant in January require very long stratification periods and are mostly flowers. Right now, I have planted Hollyhocks, Oriental Poppies, Columbines, Borage, Nasturtium, and Bunny Tail Grass. In March, I will winter sow tubs with vegetables, herbs, and more sensitive flowers. When the seeds sprout, I have to keep an eye on temperatures and slowly start to acclimate them to the outside by propping up the lids. When the seedlings are big enough, I will transplant them to individual pots or even directly in the ground. I won't have 8" tall tomato seedlings to plant in May, but they will catch up!

Last year, it was interesting to see that it didn't take long for my winter sowed tomato seedlings to catch up to the store-bought seedlings I planted in May. Not to mention cheaper and better tasting!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How To Use a Pressure Cooker: Beef Stew

Imagine having fork-tender-from-cooking-all-day beef stew in less than an hour total! 

If you live in the Northeast today, I hope you are safe and warm from last night's blizzard. I am thankful that many didn't get it as bad as they predicted and I am thoughtful of those who are in the mess of it.

In the Washington, DC area, we had a dusting, some ice, and basically cold, cold weather. Perfect for beef stew, amiright?

This recipe is a little involved in the preparation, but it's worth it and it makes a lot of stew. So, with that in mind, let's make some stew!



Pressure Cooker Beef Stew

1-3 lbs stew meat, cut into chunks
Flour, salt, and pepper for dredging beef
Vegetable oil
1 onion chopped
1 sweet potato, cut into chunks
2-3 cups beef broth
1 can diced tomatoes
1 packet brown gravy mix
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Cornstarch for thickening if needed

Preheat sautee pan over medium heat with 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. While heating, dredge beef chunks in seasoned flour (amount depends on how much beef you use for the stew) and set aside. When the oil is hot enough, brown the beef chunks on each side until light brown, about 1-2 minutes per side. Remove beef from pan, set aside, and continue browning the rest of the beef. Add more vegetable oil for each batch if needed.



When all the beef is browned, add the beef and all the remaining ingredients to your pressure cooker, lock the lid, and heat over medium high heat until the cooker comes to pressure. Once at pressure, start timing to cook for 25 minutes. At 25 minutes, move he pressure cooker to a cool burner on your stove and let depressurize naturally for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, release the pressure manually via the manual pressure release valve on your cooker. 



Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the stew needs a little thickening, place the opened cooker over medium heat and heat to a simmer. Make a slurry with a little cornstarch and stew gravy, then add to the beef stew. Stir till thickened to desired consistency. Serve over cooked rice or mashed potatoes!


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cauliflower Crust Pizza

I've seen this cauliflower pizza crust recipe all over Pintrest for the past year and thought, "How in the world is that even possible?" until I stumbled across this Pin originally from Detoxinista. After reading all the comments from her post, I thought, "Alright, I have to give this a try."

Now, neither my husband or I are gluten intolerant, but we do notice a huge improvement with weight loss and less joint inflammation when we stay away from grains. However, it's hard to do that when you love pizza, amiright? That alone was enough motivation, plus sheer culinary curiosity to give this a go.

Let me caveat to say that this crust is NOT like what you are used to in a pizza crust. It is not crunchy (except in a few of the more browned areas) and it is not really rigid enough to eat by hand, although I did manage to pick up a slice or two without it falling apart. The crust is more of a biscuit-y type consistency and overall NOT THAT BAD!


I did change the recipe a little based on some of the comments from Detoxinista's post and added a little almond flour for binding. This seemed to help a lot. I was able to find Bob's Red Mill Almond Flour in the organic section of my local grocery store.


Perfect Califlower Crust Pizza
Recipe Source: Detoxinsta 

4 cups of cauliflower "rice" (see below)
1/3 cup goat cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 400°.

To make cauliflower rice, cut up cauliflower florets and place in a food processor. Process in pulses until cauliflower is fine ground to the size between rice grains and cornmeal.

Place processed cauliflower in a saucepan with an inch of water and bring to a boil. Simmer to cook for approximately 4-5 minutes. When finished, pour cauliflower into a thin mesh strainer to drain and cool. When cool enough to handle, place cooked cauliflower inside a piece of cheesecloth or cotton dish towel. Ball the cauliflower up and twist the towel to squeeze as much liquid out of the cauliflower as possible...the drier the better. You will be left with a baseball size amount of cauliflower.

Mix the cauliflower with the remaining ingredients, ensuring the goat cheese is well distributed. This mixture will resemble a gummy dough, but don't worry, it will firm up in the oven. Press the dough (about 1/4 inch deep) onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, making sure to build up the edges a little. Bake the crust approximately 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and add your toppings (not too heavy!) and place back in the oven for 10-15 minutes more until the cheese is bubbly, Remove pizza from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before cutting to allow the crust to firm up a little. Enjoy!

NOTE: I would also recommend prepping more than one head of cauliflower at a time and possibly freezing the unused drained and squeezed cooked cauliflower rice. Detoxinista mentions that you could bake an empty crust and freeze, but I think it would pick up too much moisture. Resqueeze the defrosted, cooked cauliflower rice before continuing.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

God, I Hope So!


Happy New Year everyone! Damn, I'm glad the holidays are over. I have a new-ish gig that allows me to work entirely from home and I thought I would be all, "I GOT YOU CHRISTMAS" this year, but I actually had less enthusiasm and energy to do any of the madness. It all just irritated me, frankly.

I'm starting to order my seeds for this year's garden, but I need to deal with last year's ground cherries, sour cherries, and other frozen fruit-odds-and-ends in the freezer. My larder is looking kinda bare, but I'm still well stocked with tomato goodness.

I have been trying to come up with an exotic flavor profile for the ground cherry jam and took to consulting with my copy of The Flavor Bible to see what would go well with things that taste kinda pineapple-y and mango-y. From what I gleaned from there and the internets, oranges and anise, coconut, banana, vanilla, rum, ginger, lime...great, now I want a Pina Colada! I was thinking a ground cherry, orange, star anise combo....dunno. Oooh, how about ground cherry rosemary? That sort of rolls off the tongue.

I have MAJ home improvement plans for this year, which include upgrading the kitchen with new backsplash tile, a vented stove hood, painted cabinets, and new lights. I've gone over how I'm going to do this a hundred times in my head. I'm ready!

I have a gorgeous vintage Italian brass chandelier that I found on Craigslist that I want to hang in my laundry room, but its 50-year old, low-voltage transformer technology is kicking my butt. I found that it needs a Magnetic Toroidal Transformer....say that five times fast!

All this to include getting quotes for a ground-level deck for the back yard. We need something off the back porch where we can put the grill and not have to trek through wet or muddy grass when we want to BBQ.

I know this all sounds like a lot, so here's to a new year with new goals and new experiences ahead!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 Garden In Review

Last February I had ambitious dreams for my 2014 vegetable and fruit garden, and for the most part I was able to grow everything I set out to grow with success.

So pour yourself a cup of coffee and get comfortable. Let’s review how things went, shall we? My original seed growing list was this:

  • Tigger Melons
  • Red Malabar Spinach
  • Bush Beans
  • Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow Peas
  • Giant from Italy Parsley
  • Butterhead Lettuce
  • White Stemmed Pak Choi
  • Paris Market Carrots
  • Supersauce Tomato
  • Buttercrunch Lettuce
  • Sugarloaf Endive
  • Catalogna Chicory
  • Black from Tula Tomato
  • Brandywine Tomato (Suddeth's Strain)
  • Atkinson Tomato
  • Druzba Tomato
  • Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherry
  • Corvair Smooth Leaf Spinach
  • Win-Win Pak Choi
  • Detroit Dark Red Beet
  • Chioggia Beet

And I actually was able to grow everything I put in the ground. Now, granted I didn’t actually grow everything on this list; here’s what didn’t make the cut:

  • Sugarloaf Endive
  • Catalogna Chicory
  • Either Butterhead or Buttercrunch Lettuce…I did grow one, but just don’t remember.

Not bad, huh? So let’s review how things went:

Spring

Spring brought direct sow plantings of greens and peas. The Corvair Smooth Leaf Spinach is a favorite from last year and I made a point to grow more this year. What was new this year was the Pak Choi and lettuce. We LOVED the Win-Win Choi, but the White Stemmed Pak Choi got too big and leggy for my taste. The Win-Win Choi stayed small and compact and was wonderful chopped up and added to soups and stir-fry. Next year I will grow Pak Choi again, but just not as much. The lettuces were a nice treat too; and I threw in a packet of Wild Garden Lettuce Mix from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which was lovely. I did find; however, that we really enjoyed the baby Romaine lettuce that sprouted from this mix, so I think I will grow some Romaine lettuce next year. We also had lettuce coming out of our ears, so next year, not so much or give more away. BTW, lettuce is a pain in the butt to really clean for eating!


The Mammoth Melting Sugar Snap Peas were delicious; however, they didn’t really start producing and putting out until June-July (maybe because it was a mild year for weather?), so my plan to have Pak Choi and Sugar Snap Peas for stir-fry didn’t exactly work as the Pak Choi was done by the time the peas were ready.  I probably would grow them again if nothing else for eating right off the vine!

Late Spring/Early Summer

I planted a very unsuccessful bed of beets in May, which I have not had much luck with overall. I think the problem is they are planted in the back beds which do not get as much sun. I think beets need mild neglect to be successful in my garden. I did manage to get a few for a meal, though. Not sure if I will try again next year.

I ordered horseradish and rhubarb starts over winter and they arrived ready for planting. Of course, I won’t see anything from either for a year or two, but we’ll see.

Paris Market Carrots seeds were planted as well as Winter Sowed seedlings of Giant from Italy Parsley, and a variety of Big Box Store herb seedlings/plants to include basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, and lavender. I direct sowed the Red Malabar Spinach and Bush Beans, and I also planted Winter Sowed seedlings of Tigger Melons and Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherries.

Oh! And I was finally able to pick and eat about 2 pints of raspberries from my potted Bristow Black Raspberry bush. The crows were having their way with the ripening fruit, but not before I threw some bird netting over everything. Next year I hope to have more, as I’m planting it in the ground.



Summer

This summer was The Summer of The Tomato for sure! I Winter Sowed a lot of tomato seeds, which was mildly successful as I sowed into Styrofoam cups that had a tendency to dry out quickly. The seedlings that made it were Brandywine (Sudduth’s Strain), Black From Tula, Supersauce, Druzba, and Atkinson.

I panicked thinking that my puny seedlings wouldn’t survive to give me fruit, so I went to the Big Box Stores and bought seedlings of Better Bush, Better Boy, Big Boy, etc.  Boy, was I in for a surprise!



I planted 24 purchased seedlings and had about 15 more that were my own grown from seed. Well, not only did my puny, Winter Sowed seedlings make it in pots, but they produced the most mind-blowing, flavorful tomatoes I have ever had! So much so, that I am ONLY going to grow tomatoes that we will actually eat (versus can) for next year. All the other tomatoes were very prolific too, which ended up giving me 250 pounds of tomatoes for the season!!! But the truth is, I didn’t think they tasted all that great (compared to Brandywine!) and didn’t make that much a difference in taste from the tomatoes I purchase from the farmer’s market. So, in order to save me valuable garden real estate (and time!), I am going to purchase my canning tomatoes next year and grow only the yummiest, coveted ones for eating.


About the time the tomatoes were coming in, so were the ground cherries. I must admit the verdict is still out on this interesting fruit. They were VERY prolific and I have no doubt that I will have hundreds of ground cherry seedling volunteers next year. I did learn to let them ripen a bit after picking to get that true, mango/pineapple flavor. The cherries freeze wonderfully and that reminds me it’s time to try them out as jam!



Lastly, I was able to harvest the garlic I planted from the previous October in July! They did really well, but again, I think they would do better planted in the front beds that get more sun. I’m set on garlic for quite a while! BTW, you will get blue garlic if you make pickles using fresh garlic!



Late Summer/Early Fall

This time of year is game time in the garden! Everything is coming in like gangbusters and it’s all I can do to keep up. The tomatoes kept me canning almost every week.

The Malabar Spinach was still creeping along, but was showing promise. Truth is this green wasn’t really ready for picking until late September, which didn’t mesh up with the growth chart given on the seed packet at all. I planted it in June and expected spinach in late July early August. I was so busy with everything else that I didn’t even bother to harvest. It did; however, eventually cover my trellis and what I tasted raw was yummy, so I dunno….I might try again next year.



The Paris Market Carrots were cute as could be! I had dreams of canning these cutie patooties as pickled carrots, but failed to realize that each one of these tiny things would need peeling. Sadly, not many were eaten and were left to grow into mutants.



The Bush Beans were another favorite from last year. I planted 2 ½ beds and ended up having so many beans that many were not picked. I did find that I preferred pressure canning these lovelies to blanching and freezing, so they will make the cut again next year. Who doesn’t love green beans?

Lastly, I only managed to grow 4 measly Tigger Melon plants successfully. They really do need a trellis to grow on and I just never got around to it. I eventually got 4-5 Tigger Melons, which were beautifully exotic and somehow never got eaten either. #toomuchfood



Fall/Winter

I planted a bed of garlic from some of my dried, harvested bulbs and they have sprouted! They’re in a front, sunny bed, so I’m hoping on big bulbs next summer!

The Giant from Italy Parsley has grown like a dream and I still have 8 HUGE, gorgeous plants out there, even after the frost.  From what I’ve read, parsley is a biennial, so it will come back (or stay) for another year and then set seed and die. All my other perennial herbs are doing well too.



Other miscellaneous garden-doings included finally planting the rooted runners from my single Bristow Black Raspberry bush. Man, that thing is aggressive. Earlier in the year, I bought 2 potted, fruiting figs (Olympian and Negronne) and they have grown about 3 feet from only being 6 inches high! They are now tucked away for dormancy in the garage.

Looking Ahead

I don’t typically have a fall/winter garden, as I’m usually spent from earlier in the year. But of course, my past 2 years have been focused on establishing a homestead of sorts, so who knows what will happen next year?

I will definitely give another hand at Winter Sowing and I’ve already started a “dream” list of veggies, fruits, and flowers for next year.  That’s part of the winter fun!

All the beds are tucked away, blanketed in compost, shredded leaves, and rabbit poop…dreaming. 


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