Friday, July 25, 2014

Small Batch Canning: Tomatoes



I hate to waste food.  I especially hate to waste food I know I would use!  The spoiled avocado, the moldy potato, the garlic that dried out...all of it drives me crazy.  When I read that American shoppers throw away 40% of their groceries on average, I grab my calculator, do a quick tally and feel guilty.

Canning garden fresh tomatoes, jalapenos, green beans make me feel balanced in life.  I know that's strange, but canning is a summer activity for me, like swimming or lemonade.  Listening to a fresh batch cool on the counter as the lids 'POP'-is truly music to my ears.

Anyone with a stove are able to can.  You do NOT need a pressure cooker.

Canning Tomatoes
*This recipe allows for you to can what you have. You can can as many or as little as you'd like.

-tomatoes diced and placed in a pot
-Canning salt

Equiptment:
-canning jars
-canning lids (always use a new lid)
-canning rings that screw over the lid
-canning funnel (has a wide opening and sits nicely on the jar)

Bring your tomatoes to boil.  Have your jars either sitting in hot water or freshly finished in the dishwasher so they are sterile and hot.  Place your lids in a small sauce pan, cover with water and bring to a simmer.

Take a hot jar (I hold with a pot holder), put the hot tomatoes in the jar-leaving about a half of an inch of space from the top of the jar, top with a teaspoon of canning salt.  Wipe the lip of the jar so it is clean and dry.  Take a pair of tongs and remove a lid from the saucepan, place on jar and screw on ring.  Place on rack to cool, completely.

You will hear the lids 'POP' throughout the day.  That is a good indication the jars are sealing properly.  If a jar did not seal properly, you will know soon enough when the contents smell and/or change color. 

It takes up to 12 hours for batches to cool completely.  Do not try to rush this process.

Store canned items in a dark cool place.  They are good for up to a year.
Note: I use a Sharpie to write the month and year on the lid.

 Enjoy!
~Carmen

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A letter to my sister or 8 Tips for Navigating your 20's

                               


I know its been awhile since my last post and I apologize for this.  I have been making some life changes by really focusing on my yoga practice and spending a lot of time in the garden.  Family has always been very important to me and this time of year, being in a farm-family, there is a lot to do together.  

In June we lost my Aunt to a long battle with MS.  She was my mother's sister and my mother and grandmother have been affected in a way that surprised even them.  We knew her days were numbered the moment she received the diagnosis over 20 years ago, but when you loose a sibling (or anyone for that matter) a part of you dies.  There are memories locked within the relationship that sometimes only surface through the inspiration of the other.  Trying to unlock them, can be impossible without the help of your friend.  

My sister and I are 8 years apart, she the younger (and yet, about a foot taller) proved to be a challenging person to grow up with.  Mom called us the Sun and the Moon because we were polar opposites.  I was the girlie-girl, who was rather loud and full of energy and Chelsea was the uber tomboy, who was quiet and very laid back.  

When I discovered I was getting a little sister, I thought I was getting a cool doll...boy was I wrong!  If I gave her a wand, she'd flip it around and it was suddenly a sword!  Dress-up usually required some sort of bribe and any attempt to 'baby' her was brushed off...there's nothing like a two year-old looking at you as though you are the most lame person on the planet.   

Still, we have grown close and occasionally call each other to verify our own sanity when life has us down.  She has grown to be very computer savvy-which is awesome, since I'm very much not.  And she calls me when she needs to update her wardrobe (as long as I promise to contain myself).  I can easily call her one of my closest friends.  

The following is an email I sent my sister about a year ago.  I read it to my mother recently and through her encouragement, am sharing this with you now. 

Boog, this is for you:

A good representation of me (left) and Chels (right)

 Chels,

I read an article about dating in your 20's and I think it's pretty accurate. At least, it's accurate from my experiences, but still missing a few things...I can't tell you the secret to a great relationship or how to find your soulmate...what I do know, it's trial AND error THEN growth that creates a healthy dating enviorment. What I also know is that my 20's went by so quickly...there were so many lessons I learned-and just when I thought I was done learning the last one.  So here are some of my take aways:

1. Accept that you are forever changing.  As your knowledge-base grows, so does your awareness and perceptions.

2. Give yourself permission to change your mind.
 This is one of the biggest lessons I learned.  I was so adamant in sticking with what I've always said-I didn't take the time to listen to who I was at that time.  You probably won't change your mind on everything, but there may be big items you have a change of heart on...it's ok.  I experienced it too ;)

3. Allow experiences to be lessons and not failures. I still struggle with this one.  I'd like to say it gets easier, but I'm not sure it does.  What I can say, is always handle things honestly and with the best of intention so you don't regret them...that's the only thing that I have found to help.

4. Make your home your own private oasis.
 I know you don't mind being at home, but I didn't always.  What I found was that my home wasn't a very fun place to be.  I kept having to leave for things.  I didn't like the way it made me feel...it's wasn't HOME.  So, I put some work into making my apartment MY home, through decor and adding features to my apartment to make it easier to live in.  I allowed myself to buy movies I craved (walmart $5 bin is great for this). Bought candles for their homey smells.  And I even got favorite recipes from mom and practiced them (meatloaf, biscuits, goulash, etc).  Cooking, is the fastest way to make your apartment feel like home.  I have quite a few of moms recipes on my foodigen blog-or just text me or mom and ask.  Keep in mind, she underestimates how much sugar she puts on things...so if you're doing biscuits or cornbread, double check with me, lol.

...what does your home have to do with dating? Everything. Creating your home nurtures your soul and by nurturing your soul, you're allowing yourself to honestly open up to someone. It's a physical manifestation of who you are...which also, may make you more cautious of who you invite over. :)

5. Trust your gut. Always and in every situation.

6. Remember you're stuck with yourself, so you better be your own best friend.
 All of your friends (family) will suck from time to time.  They will disappoint, hurt you, say something mean or leave you completely.  It doesn't get easier, it doesn't make it right and usually there is little you can do to fix it.  Allow yourself to cry and be hurt or confused.  They may come back to you, and they may not.  Your friends for life, pass the 10-year mark...some get awfully close and still don't make it.  There's not a damn thing you can do to change that.

7. Always pair an disappointment/excuse with an apology AND a solution.  This is effective for work or personal and has saved me from getting in trouble in SO many situations!  People need to know you're factoring in their feelings/needs.  By offering a solution or apology you're showing them you're taking their needs seriously.

8. Don't stop reading books. They have a mystical way of translating into your own life...allow yourself to be impacted by them.  Allow the library to be your best friend.

Misc tips: always keep an extra corkscrew in your glove compartment, a bottle of wine in your home, always have a hostess gift on hand (candle from TJ Maxx or a btl of wine), hide money from yourself and learn to cook one simple meal. Oh, and when in doubt, always shave your legs...you never know when there's going to be a skinny dipping situation-no one ever plans those and they always happen when you have a weeks worth of fur! (You won't regret any skinny dipping situations you experienced...you will in fact, wish there had been more opportunities to do it).

Sorry for the novel, an article I read made me think about you and some conversations we've had over the last few years about relationships and being in your 20's.

Love you,
~Carmen 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Weekend Wino: Casas Del Toqui Carmenere Single Estate & Cilantro Pork Pitas



Its the weekend again!  Time to pick out a special bottle of wine to ring-in your days off and savor the fresh Spring air!  We have once again been working with Wine Chateau to 'uncork life' and taste luxury. 

This week I've had the pleasure of tasting Casas Del Toqui Carmenere Single Estate from Chile!  This Carmenere wine contains soft black & blue berry flavors with chocolate and tobacco notes.

THE WINE: Casas Del Toqui Carmenere Single Estate


Fun Fact: Carmenere grapes are originally grown for a Bordeaux, but have gained popularity on their own in Chile.

Other types of dishes that would work with the Carmenere:You will have good luck pairing this wine
with heavy, dark meat.  I think next time I may try pairing this with duck.

Tip: Since this wine is in the Bordeaux family, it is important to decant the wine to aerate out the harsh tannins of the wine.  This wine, I found was no exception-initially it was very harsh. 

Here is my favorite aerator:

Essential Wine Aerator
  This is easy to use, easy to store and easy to clean!  Plus it works quickly! 

Cilantro Pork Pitas
Serves 4

4 pork chops-marinated in a pineapple juice (overnight) and then rubbed with your choice of seasoning
1/2 yellow onion - thinly sliced
1 tomato - sliced
cilantro
pita bread
sour cream mixed with some of the grill seasoning

Grill off the pork chops to desired temp.  Warm pita bread in the microwave or in a skillet.  Smear sour cream mixture on pita, followed by pork, and toppings.

Serve with grilled brussel sprouts (cut in half and seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper) and grilled pineapple slices.

Enjoy!
~C


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cooking with Animal: How to make a Quiche



My girlfriend, The Animal, lives in a faraway land and is a cooking neophyte.  Recently married, she and her husband, Thunder Chicken (TC), are looking to enjoy a few more dinners at home each week.  Upon her ecstatic request, I am teaching her how to cook via blog.  Enjoy!

Dear Animal,

I do not remember when or where I picked up making quiche, but it is another item in my regular rotation of menu items.  I throw a quiche together for a variety of purposes: to impress, because I have leftovers in the fridge, but primarily I make quiche because I'm feeling lazy.

Its SO easy to make and you can vary it however you choose!  I will say, I find a three ingredient quiche to be ideal.  I also use store-bought crust.  All those snooty foodies can scoff-I know how to make crust, but this is easier and totally plays into the 'lazy' aspect of this dinner.

What you will need:
  • A glass (or metal) pie dish
Ready?

Quiche
Serves 2-4

  • 1 9 inch pie crust (you can find them with the cans of crescent rolls in the refrigerated section)
  • 5 eggs
  • 1- 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I prefer cheddar or colby jack)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 small onion - chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper - chopped
  • 4oz can of mushrooms - drained
  • Tony Chachere's
Directions:

Take pie plate and spray a light dusting of PAM over the inside.  Next roll crust out over the pie plate.  Think of pie crust like play-dough, if it comes apart a little, you just smoosh it back in place.  Gently press the dough around the inside of the plate so it settles into the right shape (perfection not required!).  Take your shredded cheese and cover the bottom of the shell with cheese.


Tip: The reason was layer the cheese first is because it creates a barrier between the water in the veggies and the pie crust.  Without the cheese there to protect it, your shell will be a gooey mess.

Layer your onion, pepper and mushrooms evenly over the top.


In a bowl, crack open 5 eggs.  Add 1/2 cup milk and a heavy dusting of Tony's (or Charley's).  Whisk together with a whisk or fork until everything is blended.  Pour over veggies.


Bake in oven on the lowest shelf, uncovered at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes or until the top of the quiche doesn't jiggle when moved.

I will serve this with a little salad or just some veggies and dip.

Enjoy!
~C

PS:  Bacon is awesome in this, but I recommend cooking and crumbling the bacon first! 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cooking with Animal: How to Slow-Cook a Chicken

My girlfriend, The Animal, lives in a faraway land and is a cooking neophyte.  Recently married, she and her husband, Thunder Chicken (TC), are looking to enjoy a few more dinners at home each week.  Upon her ecstatic request, I am teaching her how to cook via blog.  Enjoy!



Dear Animal,

If you really want to drive the hubby crazy, this is a great technique to try and you're going to laugh at how simple it is (but dont tell TC its easy-we want him to think you slaved a bit). 

Since he works from home, this will drive him nuts All. Day. Long.  You know the fastest way to a man's heart is through his stomach?...but please keep in mind-their stomachs are also wonderful torture devices for us girls to play with.

First a few words of safety:
  1. Be sure to wash your hands before handling the raw chicken and before handling something after touching the raw chicken.  Salmonella can be easily transferred.  Rule of thumb: when in doubt, wash your hands. 
  2. Be sure to thoroughly wash everything that has come into contact with the raw chicken.
  3. Chicken should be cooked until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is important that the end of the thermometer is not touching a bone.  I will check the temp in a few different places on the chicken to get an accurate read.
Here are a few thermometers I recommend:
So here's your chicken:
  When you go to the store you are looking for a 'whole roaster chicken'.  They are typically cheaper per pound than chicken breasts.  Five pounds is a lot for Levi and I, but this is the smallest they had that day.  I typically go for the 3-4lb size, but if you're planning to eat off of this for a couple days-go for a bigger size!

Next: cut this bad-boy open over the sink!  They add tons of water to these to inflate the size, weight and price.  Some 'free range' or 'local' farms wont add water, but more often than not-you are paying for excess water at some point.  I will take a serrated knife and cut the plastic off over the sink, then move the chicken around to ensure I have drained as much of the water from the orifices as possible.

Important Note: check the chicken's hole.  Water and possibly a bag of extra pieces (neck, liver, gizzards) will be in a little bag inside.  Drain the water and throw away the extra pieces for now (I'll show you how to do fun things with that later).    
Next step: Get out your crock pot.  Loosely crumple up some tin foil and lay it in the bottom of the crock.  We are making a little bed to lay the chicken on-only an inch deep.  This little bed will allow for the juices to drain off the bird so the bird can cook nicely.  If we cook him without the little bed, he will sit in the juice and boil in the juices.  Boiling the chicken causes it to fall apart and doesn't taste as good!
Lets flavor the dude!  Take your serrated knife and make a small cut (about 3 inches) around the edge of each chicken breast, one on each leg and one on each side of the back.  Use your finger to seperate the skin from the meat.  You're going to feel a little Silence of the Lambs doing this, but this is where the seasoning goes.  If you just dump the seasoning over the top, you won't taste the flavor in the meat because the skin is too thick for the seasoning to penetrate. 

How do you want to flavor your chicken?
  •   Lemon/Pepper: take a lemon and cut it into thin slices, pepper each slice and place them between the skin and meat.  Replace skin, salt/pepper skin.
  • Grill seasoning: season under the skin and over the skin using your hands to evenly distribute the seasoning.
  • Orange or with BBQ sauce: take orange marmalade and coat the chicken under and over the skin.
 Finally place chicken breast side up in crock-pot and cover with lid.
  • 4 hour cook time: Set crock pot to High
  • 8 hour cook time: Set crock pot to Low
  • 1 hour cook time: place chicken in baking dish, cover with foil, cook in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45min-1 hour.   
Serve with bread and a bag of steam-able veggies!
Enjoy!
~C