Rosey the Riveter

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cleaning out the Pantry

I have had these large cans of whole tomatoes in the pantry for way too long (as in years, not months.)  Since storage space is such a concern here (we left a 1,000 sf basement and now have none), I decided enough was enough.  Time to dehydrate and make some more space in the pantry.

I pureed two cans in the blender and decided it was too thin... so I had to cook it down.

Before I pureed the rest of them, I drained out the liquid first.  That made all the difference.

Then I spread a thin layer on the dehydrator sheet and let it go overnight.

In the morning, perfectly dehydrated tomato leather that peeled right off in one piece.

Next step, return to the food processor to grind it up.  I crumbled the big sheets to make them fit.

All six tomato cans now fit in a single pint jar!

The tomato seasoning can be added to soups, chilis, meatloaf, etc. or reconstituted to make tomato paste or tomato sauce.

And I have more shelf space in the pantry.  Win-win!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Revamping the Spice Cupboard

Have I mentioned how much I love my garden?  I have the previous owner of the house to thank... he made all the raised beds and planted a bunch of perennial herbs in one of them.  Sage, Rosemary, Chives, Garlic Chives, Thyme, Oregano, Basil, Dill, and Lavender were all thriving when we moved in.  I quickly added parsley and cilantro, and they have over-wintered very well.  However, I'm not sure how much longer they are going to last.  So, I've been harvesting the parsley every so often and dehydrating it, just to make sure I always have a good supply.  It puts the store-bought stuff to shame, and tastes exactly like fresh once it is rehydrated in whatever I happen to be cooking.

The first step is to wash it and give it a ride in the salad spinner.

Next, use kitchen scissors to snip off the leaves.  You want as little of the stem as possible.  I do it right over the dehydrator tray.

All of the parsley picture above looked like this once I finished de-stemming:

Dry at 95 degrees for about 8 hours, or until it's crunchy.  It shrinks up pretty well.
Can you see how pretty it is and how much greener it looks than the store-bought stuff?

I store it in a canning jar and crumble it when I use it.  Keeping the leaves whole while in storage makes it taste better and last longer.

If you're harvesting in warmer weather, be careful not to get any Black Swallowtail Caterpillars.  (It's worth it to plant parsley just to watch the caterpillars grow.  If you plant it, they will come!)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Who Needs Thomas'?

I was in Food Lion today to pick up a container of cottage cheese that I needed for lasagna.  In my dash to the dairy case, I happened to notice they carried Barbara's Peanut Butter Puffins.  My favorite cereal ever!  Then I noticed the price.  $5.69.  FIVE DOLLARS AND SIXTY-NINE CENTS!  Are you kidding me?

I quickly remembered why I gave up buying cereal.  First, I'm too cheap.  Second, unless it's organic, chances are that genetically modified corn is an ingredient.  Even in Kashi, which was a surprise even though it probably shouldn't have been.  Third, I know I can do better.
Tonight I made a huge batch of English Muffins (I've been making them for awhile but this is the first time I've had corn meal.  Now they really look like the real thing.)  Last week I made a batch of masa-waffles and froze them.  Every morning, we toasted them straight out of the freezer and the girls ate with Papa's maple syrup.  Sometimes it's homemade yogurt sweetened with homemade jelly with homemade granola.  Or the homemade instant oatmeal mix with dehydrated fruit.  On the weekends it's omelets with free-range eggs from the farmer down the road and peppers I froze from the garden.  Occasionally, I'll make a batch of blueberry pancakes.  Or french-toast to use up the 'bread ends' that end up in the freezer... homemade wheat bread toasted with homemade jelly... the list goes on.

The point is... we don't miss the cereal.  And most of our breakfasts are just as quick in the morning. 

Take that, Monsanto!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract

One of the gifts I used this year for teachers and hostesses, etc. was homemade Vanilla Extract.  It was super easy, and recipients have expressed A LOT of interest in how it's done.  Last week, there was an article in the paper about making your own, which prompted even more questions.

So, I decided to post about it (I know, I know... just like every other blogger out there.  It's a popular topic.)

First of all, get yourself a 1.75 L bottle of Vodka and a half pound of vanilla beans.  (Do not buy these from a local store, you'll pay through the nose.  Order online.  I have used and have been happy.  Best of all, they frequently have coupon codes and they always have free shipping on vanilla beans.)

I pour the Vodka into wide-mouth canning jars.  You want to use at least 8 vanilla beans per cup of vodka.

Slice each bean the long way, and insert into the vodka.

Let sit for about 3 months and shake it when you think of it.

You'll see it getting darker and darker.

When it's done, you won't smell the Vodka.

For gift-giving, I purchased 4 oz amber bottles from HERE.  I think I got 4 dozen and they were about a buck each after shipping. 

I downloaded THIS free image and doctored it up using WORD.

The perfect, useful little gift.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Homemade Nutella

My kids love Nutella.  Unfortunately, the first ingredient is sugar.  And it contains palm oil, which is something I'd rather stay away from.  So I set out on a quest to find the perfect recipe so I could make it myself.

The first challenge was finding the hazelnuts (also called filberts).  Because it was during the holidays, some stores had them.  And they were expensive, even if they weren't already shelled.

My lovely sister-in-law ordered me some from her co-op.  (One of the things I REALLY miss about living here... there aren't any!)  This is what 25 lbs of hazelnuts look like:

So, $160+ later, I had the nuts.  And lots of them.

I scoured the interned for recipes.  They were very similar, but we tried about half a dozen of them.  They all called for cocoa, which I determined was the problem.  Real Nutella is definitely milk-chocolaty, and those recipes were good, but more for an adult palette, not an 8 year old's.

I had a lot of homemade nutella at this point.  To use it up, I made several batches of "Nutella Crinkles" that everyone loved.  (I left out the chopped nuts because we don't like crunchy cookies.)

The quest for the perfect Nutella recipe was interrupted when my food processor died.  I debated whether to spend mucho bucks on a Kitchen Aid or a Cuisinart, but settled on a $40 Hamilton Beach that got good reviews (and I can replace three or four times for the cost of the others.)  It's larger and more powerful than my other, so I'm happy with the decision.

When I decided to resume the recipe search, I decided to pull out all the stops.  The best recipe we'd tried so far used a can of sweetened condensed milk instead of sugar, and it made the smoothest spread.  But it used cocoa, so it wasn't quite like the real thing.

I decided to make up my own recipe, using milk chocolate chips instead of the cocoa.  It was the unanimous winner, and our search for a Nutella recipe is over.  Here it is:

Toast 7 ounces of hazelnuts (which does NOT make a dent in the 25lbs!)

Remove as much of the skins as possible.  You won't get them all, but do what you can.

Run them through a food processor for about 5 minutes, until they get liquidy (like the consistency of peanut butter.)

In a double-broiler, melt a package of milk chocolate chips.  Stir in a container of sweetened condensed milk.

Add in the hazelnut spread and mix well. 

Put it through another spin in the food processor if you want to really smooth things out.  Drizzle in some canola oil if it needs it.

Voila!  Kid-approved Nutella.

Now, I will not pretend to be happy that this recipe contains not only a whole package of chips, but also a whole can of sweetened condensed milk.  But it's not as sweet as the original, so I know it has to have less sugar (which is, after all, the very FIRST ingredient in Nutella). 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Kiwi Jam

The planets finally aligned and I actually had ripe kiwis AND time to make jam.  This recipe is straight out of the Ball Blue Book... very easy.

Peel and chop 3 cups of kiwi (that was exactly 10 of mine, but depending on size 8-12 or so)

Combine with 1 cup of pineapple juice (no sugar added) and one box of pectin.  (Some people add a few drops of green food coloring, but I say why bother?)

Bring to a boil, stirring often, and then add in 4 cups of sugar.

Return to a boil and let it go for one minute, stirring constantly.

Process in a BWB for 10 minutes and voila!  Beautiful jam.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Walk Around the Homefront

It's 62 and sunny today... the perfect day to get the garden prepped for upcoming planting, right?  Um, no.  The wind is horrible!  I did manage to get the equivalent of two rows hoed and covered.  Come take a walk and see what else I've been up to!

All four rhubarb plants are coming up nicely.  I had to put chicken wire around them because apparently our resident rabbit doesn't realize rhubarb leaves are poisonous.

I have corralled my 'garden ghetto' into one spot now that I'm getting the other beds ready for spring.

This is what the broccoli looks like inside it's happy little 'greenhouse'.

The cabbage is also starting to sprout.

The carrots have wintered well.  They haven't grown much but I haven't covered them at all.  I suspect now that we are closing in on 10 hours of daylight, they will start to grow again (I read somewhere that's the magic number.)

The parsley and cilantro are doing amazingly well, also.  Again, haven't done a thing to them.  Supposedly, our low for the year is 20 and they don't look any worse for the wear.

I have one last cabbage that is still growing, and every so often I can cut enough side shoots off the broccoli to serve with dinner.  In another couple of weeks, though, I'll be tearing them out and getting this bed ready for spring.

Here you can see the garlic I planted in the fall, as well as the new trellising that was so easy to put up.

The only thing left in these beds are more carrots that aren't doing nearly as nice as the others.  I can't for the life of me figure out why, but at least the harvest will be staggered.
The compost bins are waiting for warmer weather so they can get back to making black gold.  We'll be planting milkweed for the monarchs on the right side of them.

The new peach tree is still dormant, but I am so looking forward to watching it grow!

My clothesline has arrived, but since we're not permanently cementing it in the ground, I need to find an umbrella stand for it.  And it's too tall, so Stephen will have to take the hacksaw to it!

The jalapeno inside is doing well.  As you can see, many of the flowers are dropped and it's time for the peppers to start growing.

I rooted an assortment of herbs and they are faring fine.

The oregano plant I have is huge and probably past it's prime, so one of these plants will replace it.  The others will be brought to an upcoming plant swap.

Someone tell these roses it's January.  Every other bush has gone dormant!

These are the some of the daffodils and tulips I planted around the tree in our front yard.  They've been peeking out for several weeks now, but I suspect the mild temps will hurry them along.  I've been told the tulips won't come back (not enough chill time here) but we'll see.  I'll enjoy them for the first year anyway.  Apparently, daffodils do really well here so I'm looking forward to them.

That's it for now!  Hopefully I'll have a lot of new sprouted seeds to show you in a few weeks!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Do you see what I see?

This is the Jalapeno plant that I brought in for the winter.  It is FULL of blossoms.  And, if you look real close, you can see a baby jalapeno!  Looks like I'll be harvesting REALLY early this year!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Winter Sowing Update

We had a good wind storm the other night and it knocked over a couple of my winter sowing jugs.  Now I understand the wisdom behind just dumping soil in the jug and planting that way, rather than in individual cups like I tried to do.  So, I've planted up about ten more containers (at this point, all of the seeds I've ordered have arrived.)  For the most part, I have allocated one container per variety.  It would be easier to do more, but at his point I don't know if the whole experiment is going to work, or not...  I know others in cooler parts of the country have great luck with it, but it doesn't seem as popular here in zone 8.  So, I'm saving enough seed so that if I have to direct sow, I can.  Our growing season is long enough that it shouldn't be a problem, even for the peppers.  (I'm only growing two new varieties... paprika and mini belle.  I have the Bell and Jalapeno from last summer's garden over-wintering inside, and it looks like they are going to be just fine.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

When life (er... Mom...) gives you pomegranates...

and they sit on your counter for a week, and you know you either have to use them or compost them because they are going soft...  well...

you make juice!

Inspired by my success with the cranberry, and knowing how 'healthy' pomegranate juice is (if you don't add a ton of sugar), I decided to wing it.

First, cut the pomegranate in half and take the seed-things out (they have a real name.  I forget what it is.)  It helps immensely if you do this process underwater.  That way, you don't get stained.  All the seed-things sink.  Everything else you don't want in your juice floats.

Then, transfer the seed-things to your blender and add enough water aid blending.  Strain.  As with the cranberry juice, I decided to repeat this process to get every last bit of juice out.

Compost the pulp and transfer the juice to a saucepan.  Add sugar to taste.  Bring to a boil (this helps to dissolve the sugar, and it also helps to concentrate the juice if, like me, you used too much water and it tasted too weak.)

Hubby tasted it and didn't think he'd drink it plain.  But, I quote... "It'd be good with Sprite or ginger-ale.  Or Vodka..."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


This is what 125+ Kiwis look like!  They have never been sprayed, they were locally grown, and they can be stored for up to 6 months because they haven't been gassed.  Carol from Watkins Bee Farm and Kiwifruit Orchards is a dear, and it was lovely to meet her today at the Farmer's Market.  I am anxious to get started making kiwi jam, but I have to ripen some of them up first.  (Easy to do... place in a bag with a ripe banana or apple for a few days.)

If you are local and would like to get your own, they are 25 cents each in groups of 20.  Call her at 650-3456 to find out when she'll be at the VA Beach Farmers Market (Dam Neck and Princess Anne.)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Winter Sowing

We have no room to set up grow-lights and everything else needed to start seedlings indoors.  Not to mention I didn't want to spend the money on the lights and shelving and electricity and everything else.  So I was very excited when I read about Winter Sowing.  I knew I had to give it a try.  Basically, you plant seeds in plastic containers that act as greenhouses.  They know when the proper time is to sprout, and they are hardier than seedlings started indoors because they've been exposed to the elements.

Thanks to neighbors and friends who saved their milk jugs for me, I'm in business.  Today was a gorgeous day, so I figured it was a good time for the girls and I to pot up some milk jugs.

We started with broccoli and cabbage seeds, just because I know they are ok in the cold.  In a few weeks, I'll try some others.
You just set them out, through rain and snow and ice and whatever, and when the time is right, they sprout.  (Don't you like my candy-cane duct tape?  It was on clearance at Michael's.  In the spring, when the weather warms, you can remove the tape and open up the 'greenhouses.'
I labeled the tops, bottoms, and sides of the jugs because the sun is going to fade the Sharpie, and I really want to know what I've got.

Direct quote from Stephen, as he enjoyed this gorgeous day on the hammock: "Gardening sure is hard work!"