Thursday, December 5, 2013

Creamy Mexican-Style Turkey Soup

I can't believe it's been since the beginning of August since I last posted to the blog. The gardening is done, the canning complete, the vegetables in the freezer...gone. Yeah, had a mishap and the freezer went kaput on us and we lost all of our wonderful frozen veggies from the garden. Oh well. It was still a wonderful learning experience, and we will get a new freezer for next years harvest. Since the gardening season has finished, we have kept busy on indoor projects like remodeling the bathroom and basement. Now here we are the week after Thanksgiving and only three weeks until Christmas. How time flies! But even though Thanksgiving is over, there is still plenty of turkey to eat! Each year I look around the net for new and creative ways to use up some of the left over turkey. This year I went with a mexican-style soup that is a most excellent comfort food. I don't remember which site I got the original recipe from, but I think it was in a list of 10 great ideas for leftover turkey or something along those lines. At any rate, I made a couple of changes to the recipe to go with my own personal taste and ingredients that I had on hand. This is fairly easy to make and comes together quickly. Enjoy!
2 Tbls vegetable or olive oil
1 carrot chopped into bite sized pieces (or you can cut up a bunch of those mini carrots. Thats what I did since that is all I had in the fridge).
1 stalk of celery cut into bite sized pieces.
1 sweet onion, diced
2 1/2 Tbls of minced garlic (jar or fresh)
3 cups stock (I used store bought chicken stock, but you can make your own from the turkey as well)
1 can diced chilies, drained
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ancho chile pepper powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 1/2 cups shredded turkey
3/4 cup corn
1 bunch of cilantro leaves chopped
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
In a large stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, carrots and celery and saute' for a few minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat until its just simmering and add one cup of the turkey, the corn and the green chilies. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the rest of the turkey.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, flour, salt, ancho chile pepper powder and cumin. Stir this mixture into your soup pot and continue to stir for a few minutes as the soup thickens. Stir in the cheese and cilantro and let simmer a few more minutes so the cheese all melts in. Continue to stir occassionally throughout the whole cooking process to keep every incorporated and ensuring nothing sticks to the bottom of your pot. Serve hot and enjoy! Goes great with a glass of Pinot Grigio!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Zucchini Bread Recipe

The zucchini plants in our garden.
This year in our garden, I had originally planted 8 hills of zucchini. I have no idea why I thought this many was a good idea, since really one or two plants will feed a family of four for the summer quite easily. I think part of it was remembering the rows of zucchini plants in our garden when I was growing up. At any rate, this year I was fortunate that not all 8 hills sprouted. I planted them in a more shaded section of the garden and perhaps that is why they didn't all come up, or maybe I just had some bad seeds. Anyway, I ended up with 3 fairly massive zucchini hills, 2 of which  you see in the picture on the left.
Of course even just these have left me scratching my head as to what to do with all this zucchini that we seem to be picking every other day! Now I love zucchini just boiled and mashed with butter, but you can only eat that so many days in a row. So I decided to make some zucchini bread. And, if I may brag for a moment....this recipe rules. So here ya go:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsps vanilla extract
3 tsps cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/4 cups grated zucchini (I grated one large zucchini and this is approximately what I ended up with).
Preheat your oven to 325 F.
Sift the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon together into a bowl. My sifter only holds a little over 2 cups, so I sifted 2 cups of flour first, and then did the additional cup of flour along with the other ingredients and then just mixed it together in the bowl.
With electric beaters, beat together the brown sugar, white sugar, eggs and vanilla extra in a separate bowl. Once well combined, start adding your dry sifted flour mix to the wet ingredients. Beat together until everything is well incorporated. Then add your zucchini. You can use beaters with this as well if you wish, however I just used a large spoon at this point. Once all ingredients are well mixed, pour it into two greased (I just sprayed mine with Pam) 8x4 pans. Place in the oven and then bake for 1 hour, then turn off the heat on the oven, but leave the bread in there for another 20-30 minutes. You will want to check it periodically after the first hour with a toothpick until the toothpick comes out clean. Once you remove it from the oven, let it cool in the pans for about 20 minutes and then remove and place on a cooling rack for about another 20-30 minutes.
This bread is so sweet and moist it's ridiculous. I keep mine wrapped in aluminum foil in the fridge and it makes a great addition to my morning coffee. I plan on making more, and then freezing it for later this winter. Enjoy!

The finished zucchini loaves.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

First Attempt at Spaghetti Sauce and Canning

Sunday's Harvest
Now that we have rolled into August, we are in the full swing of one of my favorite parts of gardening.....harvesting! Finally the fruits of our labor can be enjoyed, almost daily.

This past weekend, we pulled over a dozen ears of corn, nearly a half bushel of tomatoes and a few peppers. With the tomatoes and peppers I thought I would now try my hand at making a spaghetti sauce from a recipe shared by my friend JC. I have never made my own spaghetti sauce from scratch before, so figured now would be a good time to start, since I don't think I could make enough salad to use up all these tomatoes.

Additionally, I decided now would be a good time to start the canning. While I was growing up, my mother spent many a Sunday canning all sorts of things, from tomatoes to peaches, applesauce and even making her own tomato juice. These would fill the shelves in our basement so we could feast on homemade and homegrown goodness throughout the year.

After working in the yard all day Sunday, I decided I would make the sauce and can on Monday night after work. Bad idea, as this is quite a bit of work, and not something I would recommend trying to get done in an evening before bed when you have to work the next day. Thinking back on all the canning my mom did when I was a kid, I have to say that I have even greater respect for her canning and cooking skills now that I have had a go at it!

Anyway, I started the sauce Monday after work. Prior to starting I went out and picked more tomatoes from the garden that had ripened, so I had filled the half bushel basket. Here is the recipe I used, (this includes some of my own additions and subtractions as I changed up slightly the recipe JC had shared).

25 pounds of tomatoes (about 60-65)
3 onions, finely chopped
4 green peppers, finely chopped
8 garlic cloves, minced
3 (12 ounce) cans of tomato paste
4 tablespoons dried italian spice mix (includes oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc.)
1/3 cup of salt
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1. Wash and peel the tomatoes. To make peeling tomatoes easier, blanch them in boiling water for 60 seconds and then plunge them into ice-cold water. Core the tomatoes and cut them in halves or quarters. Put the tomatoes into a large pot and bring them to a boil over medium high heat. (Be sure to stir them constantly so that they don't burn on the bottom!) Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the tomatoes start breaking down into small pieces.
2. Add the tomato paste to the tomatoes and stir to mix thoroughly.

3. Cut onions and green peppers into chunks and process in a food processor until finely chopped. Add to the simmering tomatoes and stir.

4. Mince the garlic cloves and add to the pot. ( I also just tossed these in the food processor and added them at the same time as the onions and peppers).

5. Stir to mix thoroughly and allow the sauce to simmer for 30 minutes. Continue to stir the sauce constantly.

6. Add the italian spice mix and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to mix thoroughly and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

I recommend using a very large pot for this. I started out with our largest pot, but by the time I added all the tomatoes, I had filled it to the rim and I didn't think I was going to have enough room to add the rest of the ingredients, even though the tomatoes will cook down some. So Mitsy ran next door and borrowed this big pot from the neighbor, and I made a quick transfer and put it back on the heat.

 This sauce came out pretty sweet, probably due to the type of tomatoes I grew in my garden. (Don't remember what kind they were) but they are large and have a great sweet flavor when we eat them fresh. The original recipe only called for 2 cans of the tomato paste, but I added a third to thicken it up a little more. You can also add more or less onions, peppers and garlic depending on your preference.

I also meant to add black pepper, but forgot before I started the canning process.

So by the time the sauce was done cooking, it had already gotten pretty late, but I decided to forge ahead with the canning process anyway. I put six jars in my big canning pot filled it with water (to about an inch above the jars) and set it on to boil to sterilize them. Once the water came to a rolling boil, I let them go for about 10 minutes and then came in to remove them from the heat and start filling them with my newly made precious sauce.

So imagine my horror when I pull out the first "sterilized" jar only to find it covered in a white film. Ugh. It was then I realized that I hadn't washed the jars or the canning pot prior to filling them with water, because, well, I'm an idiot. I figured this was all the dust that had been on them from sitting in the store shelves and the pot sitting in our basement for the last six months. So instead of starting all over with the jars with washing them, reboiling them, etc., I decided to wait a day, since it was already almost 11:00pm. I placed my pot of sauce in the fridge and went to bed!

Day 2

On Tuesday evening I came home and after dinner, got back to work on the canning process. I put the sauce back on the stove to heat up while I washed all the jars and the canning pot, and the put those on the stove to boil again. Once it finally came to a rolling boil (seems to take forever to start boiling with these big pots) I let it boil for 10 minutes again. Then I used my jar lifter to take out my first jar to fill with the sauce was covered in white film again. WHAT?!?! I was defeated. It was then that I realized that this was not dirt or dust collecting on my jars, but calcium and or limestone from our hard water that comes from our well. So now what? Doing a google search, I found that I could add vinegar to the water and do it all over again. Well I don't think I had enough vinegar, and quite frankly I didn't feel like boiling the jars for a third time! So what does a man do when faced with this type of dilemma? He calls his mother.

As I mentioned before, my mother has been canning for years, like probably at least 60 years, and at age 82, she is still canning every season! So I figured getting her advice on this matter would be better than any google search. Well mom said she doesn't boil her jars to sterilize them anymore, and hasn't for several years. She runs them through the dishwasher and then uses them and hasn't had a problem yet. Well I don't have a dishwasher (another project that needs to be done, and soon!), but I did fill up the sink with some scalding hot water and soap, rewashed the jars, and then rinsed them again in super hot water (seriously, I thought the skin on the back of my hands was going to come off from the heat). I then followed these canning instructions for the sauce:


1. Add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to each jar. Do not use fresh lemon juice.

2. Using a funnel, transfer the spaghetti sauce into the jars. Leave a 1/2 inch headspace at the top. Release any air bubbles with a spatula. Wipe the jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Place a warm lid on each jar and hand tighten a screw band on. Do not over-tighten.

3. Place your jar rack in the water bath canner, suspending it with the handles on the edge and put your jars in the rack. Unhook the jar rack and carefully lower it into the hot water. Add more water if necessary to cover the jars with at least 1 inch of water. Heat the water to full, rolling boil for 40 minutes.

4. Remove your jars with a jar lifter and place them on a clean, dry kitchen towel away from drafts and allow them to cool completely for 12-24 hours. Test to make sure each jar has sealed and store in a cool, dark place.

I actually didn't do that whole thing with suspending the jar rack, etc. I just set the whole rack down in the pot and then added my full, capped jars one at a time using my jar lifter. I think I also boiled the batch a bit longer as well, probably more like 45-50 minutes, since I wasn't sure exactly when the full boil starter, and then at the end I was watching Conan O'Brien and didn't want to go out into the kitchen until the commericial break. Yeah, I know my precious sauce should be more important than Conan's jokes, but I think the extra five minutes was fine.
At any rate, I finished up the canning process a little after 11pm and didn't run into any issues with cracked jars or whatever other atrocities that can occur during a canning session. Oh, I did accidentally fill my canning pot to high with water, so when I added the full jars of sauce it overflowed over the top of my stove and all over the floor. I used a large measuring cup to scoop out the excess water, and then a quick use of paper towels to clean up the puddle on the floor and I was good to go. I ended up with the finished product below, and in checking the lids this morning I have a proper seal on all six jars. Mission successful!
I should mention that I still have more sauce, I think this would probably fill another 2-4 jars, so I may do some more tonight, or I may just make some spaghetti and start using up the sauce that way. Also this blog entry is not meant to be an instructional for how to can, as most websites on canning will recommend the sterilization procedure that I omitted after two failed attempts with the hard water. You should always take precautions with canning to ensure you have proper acidity in your recipes to avoid those fun things like botchilism. Or you can call your mom and follow her advice like I did. But call your mom, not mine.
Anyway, I 'm looking forward to chowing down on some good homemade spaghetti sauce this fall and winter, and now that I have my first session under my belt, I may make more. God knows we still have a ton of tomatoes coming in to use.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Culinary Smut

Earlier this week, Mitsy and I were out in the garden checking the status of our vegetables, picking some zucchini and cucumbers and just enjoying our garden area in general. Mitsy went down to see how close we were to start harvesting corn, when she saw a couple of the cobs that had some sort of blight on them. She called me over to investigate and in walking over I was greeted with this monstrosity.
This was the first crop of corn I have ever grown myself and I had never seen anything like this. Pulling out my trusty phone, I quickly Googled "blue mold on corn". I quickly had multiple images and articles come back about blue mold on a corn crop and so I began reading to see what I needed to do to protect the rest of my crop from being overcome with this blight.
Imagine my surprise when I found out this stuff was actually edible! While it can spread and infect a whole crop of corn, it can also be a delightful culinary experience. While generally in America, this stuff is referred to a "Corn Smut" (not a very appealing description), it has quite a history with our South American neighbors. In Mexico, it is commonly known as huitlacoche or cuitlacoche (pronounced QUEET-la-coh-chay).  It is commonly sold in markets and can fetch upwards to $3 a pound! It is most often used in soups and quesadillas, although searching more on the web, I found a host of recipes for it, including ice cream!
I , however, was still not convinced. I posted the picture above on my Facebook page and soon had several comments from friends recommending it as good eats. So I researched some more. The fungus usually occurs when rain/moisture get down into the growing corn cob and the kernels begin to rot. Still doesn't sound very appetizing, but the amazing thing is the transformation that occurs, in not only the way it looks, but the nutrient value skyrockets. Corn is pretty much devoid of lysine, one of those "essential amino acids" that the body requires but can't manufacture. We need it to fight infections and strengthen bones. However huitlacoche is loaded with it! It also has more beta-glucens than oatmeal.
So after reading all this, I decided to pull the four "infected ears" and try making a dish with it. After pulling the ears, I plucked off all the blue knobby kernels.

It looks almost like some kind of blue-gray deformed popcorn at this point. I had also picked a couple of jalapeno's, some cilantro and some tomatoes out of garden to go with my smut creation. In a large pan I sautéed the jalapeno's (seeds removed, you can add more if you like it spicier), 2 cloves of garlic and about a quarter of a sweet onion. Once that was cooked down, I rough chopped the huitlacoche and tossed it in. The larger fungus have black spores in them that look kind of like the underside of a Portobello mushroom. These are edible as well, although from what I understand the younger fungus has better/more acute flavors. Either way, the fungus kind of turns black and tarry looking anyway when its cooked. After sautéing on medium-high heat for a few minutes I cut the heat and added it to a warmed tortilla that had a bunch of slightly melted Mexican four-cheese mix on it. Then I cut up a fresh garden tomato and chopped up some of the cilantro and added this to my creation as well. 

I then wrapped up the whole concoction and topped with some salsa verde, a little taco sauce and a what was left of the fresh cilantro. It ended up looking like the picture below.

It was completely delicious! The huitlacoche has a flavor that is both earthy and sweet. The only way to describe it is a fresh corn flavored mushroom flavor. It mixed well with the other ingredients and my only regret is that I did not have more in my garden to add. I would also like to try the other recipes I found online. I highly recommend you try this odd looking yet tasty smut! I believe you can buy canned versions of huitlacoche online (I think amazon sells it) or probably at a local latin food store. I am only guessing, but I would imagine that fresh would be much better than canned. While I don't want my whole corn crop to turn into corn smut, I wouldn't having more of this in the future growing in my garden. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Home Brewing Update

I have been doing some brewing this spring and summer as well. While it is rough to fit in a 3 1/2 hour extract brew session between all the yard projects, garden and new puppy, I have managed to brew four times so far this spring.

Most recently I brewed my "More Wit than Wisdom" which is a Witbier and The Wedding Ale (a.k.a. the Schmoopie IPA). Both will be on tap at a cookout we our having the Saturday before Mitsy and I get married.

The Witbier has  been pretty popular at outings over the past three years and is a great summer drink with hints of coriander and orange peel. Many people who drink beer may be familiar with Blue Moon, which is sort of an Americanized version of the Witbier. Victory Brewing Co. has one that I tried on tap last summer, but I thought the spice notes were too heavy and didn't really care for it. The best commercial Witbier that I have had recently is Namaste by DogFish Head. However, not to sound like a pompous ass, I think my Witbier is better than any of them.

Witbiers were pretty popular way back in the day, but then kind of disappeared (at least in the US) around the 1950's but had a resurgence back in the late 80's with the growth of home brewing and craft breweries. They only run about 5% alcohol (mine usually runs about 5.3%) and pair great with seafood dishes and other light summer fare.

I use bitter orange peel, coriander and honey as my additional ingredients. For the honey I use Orange Blossom honey to further increase that light orange flavor. The grain profile is easy with the extract version, since I simply use extracts of pilsner and wheat malts and then the only specialty grain I have to steep is the flaked oats. Hallertau and Styrian Goldings complete the hop profile.
Anyway, the brew session went well with everything going as expected. The same went for the IPA that I brewed on Sunday. With kegging the Witbier tonight and the IPA by mid next week, both beers should be good to go for the party. I still have to make another portable kegerator for the 2nd keg though. I will update later with the outdoor tap system I am putting together for the party. I hope it will be bitchin'.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Addition

So a little over a week ago, the Crosshatch got a new addition. Her name is Abigal Barley Patton (we just call her Abby), and she is an eight week old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  We had not planned on getting a dog as yet, as we wanted to wait until we had a few more house and yard projects done. We figured on getting a dog in a couple of years, however I do occassionally look at what available options are for puppies online.

I originally wanted a cocker spaniel, since my ex and I had a wonderful little Cocker named Neaky for six or seven years, and I wanted to get another dog like her. Mitsy had been looking at different breeds and read about the Cavaliers, who are a little smaller than a cocker and are supposed to be easier to train and have better dispositions.

So one Thursday afternoon, I am perusing some available puppy pictures and come across this insane amount of adorable packed into one photo:
I sent the link to Mitsy and instant messaged her "What do you think of this one?" The site had a couple more pictures as well as the video, which showed the puppy playing in the grass with a toddler. This really doesn't seem like a fair marketing tactic to me, as I mean really, how do you actually say no to that? So we decided to call the breeder and see if she was still available. We ended up being the first person to call, and she was available for adoption that coming Saturday.

Saturday morning we made the 2 hour 15 minute drive to Stevens, PA to be introduced. Of course after meeting Abby, it was decided that she would be coming home with us, and we would just be a little tight on money for the next month or so.

Its now been a week and a half and Abby has settled in famously. The first night we tried putting her in a box with a blanket next to our bed, but she woke up every couple of hours crying. So after I took her out at 2:30am for a potty break, I just brought her back in and put her in bed with us. She promptly went to sleep and slept until 8am the next morning and has slept in our bed every night since.

Having a puppy is almost like having a toddler, since we need to potty break her quite often, have to pull all things out of her mouth that she shouldn't be chewing on (she loves rocks, sticks and even pulling weeds in the garden) and of course regular training. So far she has learned to sit, and has started to learn a little bit of fetch, bring back her squishy (one of her chew toys) after it is thrown for her.

Waldo, our big cat is slowly getting used to her. During the first weekend she got to close and he swatted her on the nose quick. She has kept her distance since then, but really wants to play. She will run up behind Waldo when he is back is turned, but as soon as he turns around and gives her a look, she will immediately lay down, then they will both just lay on the floor and look at each other. But this past weekend, Waldo actually nuzzled Abby with his head twice when I was holding her, so there is hope that they will be getting along soon. Shebie, our little cat is a bit neurotic to begin with, and has stayed hidden in our bedroom closet the majority of the time since Abby arrived. But I think that will change too, since in the last day she has had a little bit more close contact in passing the puppy in the hall during meal times.

So while it is a lot of work, we are excited to have Abby be part of our family, gardens, etc. We plan on having many fun times for years to come. Especially once she is house trained.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Garden As It Grows

Well the last fence post is in and the final bit of mesh has been nailed. The garden is in full swing and growing like crazy for the most part. Our beans, probably doing the best of all.
When I first planted the beans, I planted two different kinds; one labeled pole beans and one garden beans. Now regular old garden green beans as I remember from gardening with my folks as a kid, just grew in a row, maybe about a foot high, and then you picked them. This would then start the next part of the process, which was sitting out in the back yard with a basket of green beans by your side and a tupperware bowl in your lap. Snapping green beans to prepare for freezing and drinking lemonade was a summer backyard past time at our house.

Anyway, so back to the plants themselves. My pole beans are doing fine, growing up the old monkey bars I have set up in the garden to use for a trellis with pole beans on one side and pickling cucumbers on the other. Then I also planted a row of garden in a seperate area.  They were growing great, except they are still growing, and have crazy tendrils coming off of them going all over the place like the pole beans. No, I didn't mix up the plantings, because I still have the package of the "garden beans" stuck at the end of the row, and the pole beans are in the garage since I still have most of the packet left.  Anyway, the garden beans, which don't have beans on them quite yet, look like this:
They are still fairly "bushy", but I'm not sure what the deal is with the tendrils, unless this is another type of green bean that I haven't planted before. Guess I will have to get some more mesh and give them something to climb on.
Last night I decided the kale I planted was large enough to cut and eat. I was pretty excited about eating fresh kale from the garden, plus my sister told me she has a great recipe for a kale and italian sausage soup! So I took a basket and went out and filled it with fresh cut kale. I brought it in and washed each leaf by hand, as I had noticed that something had been eating little holes in a lot of the leaves, and also when inspecting the leaves closely, I noticed some of them had little "eggs" from some type of bug stuck to the underside. However these were only on some of the larger leaves and were easily removed with a gentle rub under running water.
I filled a large pot with the kale, added some water and salt and set it on the stove. I am a big fan of just boiled kale with some vinegar or butter and salt added. Good summer eats! After letting it boil for just a few minutes, I proceeded to fill my plate with this first harvest from the garden. It was then that I noticed little white "thing" on one of the leaves. Upon further inspection it was some sort of little catepillar looking bug. I believe it is from some type of moth that had been laying those little eggs on the under side of the leaves. After going through the rest of the pot, I found enough of these to decide I didn't really want this kale, and ended up tossing the whole pot of it. I was disappointed to say the least. Not really sure where these things were hiding when I was washing each leaf by hand!
After doing some research I have decided to do a couple things differently when I harvest my next batch of kale. I am going to pick it when it is smaller, since it appears that most of these eggs and catepillars were on the largest of the leaves. Next I am going to soak all of the leaves in the sink in water with some salt for a bit before doing the individual cleaning and cooking. This should help get rid of any crawlers. I'll keep you updated on how the next batch goes.  Such are the struggles of organic gardening!
Our tomato plants have gotten quite large with plenty of blossoms, we have one tiny eggplant coming in so far, and we have a couple of jalenpeno's that are just about ready to be picked. I still love spending tme in the garden every day even if I am just sitting there watching the birds and looking at my budding crop. It is my place of zen.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Beginnings of a Backyard Oasis

I realized this week that it had been quite some time since I had posted anything for this blog. My original intention was to use this to not only share recipes, but to also write about the beer brewing, the house and yard projects, the music writing and any other craft type things that happen at the Crosshatch. But alas I have not kept up with the writing. Mainly because for the past two and a half months I have been building a split rail fence around our yard and another around the garden. Digging each fence post hole by hand doesn't leave me much in the mood to then blog about it. By I will try to do better at updating going forward and give you a little bit of insight as to how it has gone thus far.......

On March 28th I brewed 10 gallons of an IPA with my friend Jason. You can view this brew session on my brewing video link over there on the right of your screen if you are so inclined to have an extract beer brewing lesson. The following afternoon a truck arrived at my house carrying a load of a little over 700 feet of split rail fence materials. When the driver first arrived in back down to the area next to the garage where I wanted the materials, but then asked me if I had anything to prop under his tires before he got out of the truck since the brakes weren't working so well...not very reassuring, but I went along with it, grabbing a couple of logs off the woodpile and shoving them under the front tires. Once this was completed, he jumped out of the truck and unhooked the straps on the back of the flatbed. At first I thought we were going to have unload the rails and posts one by one, but he said that wasn't necessary as the back of the flatbed lifted up. Cool. So he raised the flatbed up, however all the wood just sat there on a slant about 3 or 4 feet off the asphalt. Suddenly he gunned it, and the truck shot up my driveway while all the wood flew off the back into a pile! It was nuts! He then handed me the receipt out the window, waved goodbye and was off. Well my rails seemed none the worse for wear after their short flight, although now that I have worked my way through the majority of the pile, it does seem I ended up with about six broken rails that had the ends crushed when the stack of posts landed on them.

  Now that we are nearing the end of the first week of June, I have completed fencing the front yard, down one whole side of our property, and around the garden. I have about 8-10 posts left to put in along the back of the property that were left over and giving us more fence than what we originally planned on putting in this go around. I have also successfully meshed the whole side yard fence so far which is now effectively keeping the neighbor dog from charging us or leaving us his poop presents to clean up.

As you see in the picture below I have also put up the fence around the garden we planted. So far we have in tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, green beans, cucumbers, pole beans, kale, beets, sunflowers, corn, swiss chard (although it is barely making it) and last night we planted a blueberry bush in a big half whiskey wooden keg. This in addition to the three rows of strawberries that were already there. And we have plans on adding more soon.
Front Gate Area of the Garden Fence
We still have lots more weeding, mulching and tree trimming to do, but the beginnings of our backyard oasis is starting to emerge. There are still plans on building a deck, adding a fountain, plus another water feature (waterfall and pond) in the back corner of the yard below the garden as sort of a zen garden/mediation area. Although these are future projects that most likely will not be happening this year!

I enjoy the gardening part and it is actually a nice break after digging each fence post by hand. I tried renting a one-man post hole digger but took it back after two hours of frustration. I can actually dig much faster manually since after about six or eight inches down, the ground is hard pack clay. The power digger would just spin on top of this clay and not really make much headway. I have had two occassions where after getting down about 2 feet I hit a solid boulder and could go no further and had to cut off part of the bottom of the post. Most of my holes I run down about 28 to 30 inches. In other cases I hit rock and just went around it, so the fence isn't solid straight, but perhaps more of a slightly rambling style which I have decided is just rustic charm. :) More soon!

Front right corner looking out over the garden

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Kale Chips

So I had been seeing different healthy snack ideas show up on my Pinterest feed, and recently there seemed to be an array of kale chip recipes. I had heard of these before and even seen them on the food network, but had never tried making them. Since I had a big bunch of kale in the fridge that I hadn't used yet, I figured I would try it out. The jury is still out for me on this one. While they came out fine, and I did find myself eating a whole plate of them, I can't decide if I really liked them enough to make them regularly, even though they were pretty addicting. They are pretty quick and easy to make, so give it a try.


One big bunch of kale
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. red wine vinegar

Optional Ingredients:

1 tsp. dried taragon
finely grated parmesan cheese

Kitchen Equipment:

Parchment paper
1 or 2 baking/cookie sheet pans
Large bowl


Preheat oven to 375 F. Rinse your kale well to remove any grit and then pat dry with a paper towel. Tear the kale leaves into pieces, basically about the size of potato chips. I removed most of the large stems, but left a few smaller ones on here and there. In a large bowl, add the olive oil and red wine vinegar, then add the kale. Toss the kale by hand until all the leaves have a light coating of the oil and vinegar mixture. Put a layer of parchment paper on your baking pan, and spread out your kale in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt (I was pretty liberal with the salt, but this is up to you). Then if you chose any optional ingredients, sprinkle on as well. I did one tray with the parmesan cheese and one tray with the taragon. I think I actually preferred the ones with taragon. Put in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

The kale chips are very fragile when done, almost like parchment paper with the thinner leaves. They also don't make the most attractive display, so don't plan on fancying up your table with this as an appetizer. They are more just an interesting thing to eat, and depending on how much salt and cheese you decided to dump on them, they could be substitute snack for chips. I couldn't stop eating them for some reason, maybe it was all the salt.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Eggplant Rolls with Spinach and Fresh Mint

I love eggplant. A few years ago, I decided to plant a garden and was pretty excited about putting in eggplant. I was looking forward to having a bumper crop and making all sorts of eggplant dishes. Unfortunately the rabbits in my yard were also fans of eggplant, and within just a few short days of putting in the small plants, they had been eaten down to nothing with the exception of a few dilapidated chewed-on stalks. Oh well. I'll be trying again this year, within a fenced-in area that should keep the little critters out.

Anyway, I have been making this dish for the past three years or so and it is always a hit at the family gatherings. This is a great alternative to lasagna, can make a nice replacement if your are trying to cut back on heavier pasta dishes, as well as being a good and hearty vegetarian dish.


2 medium eggplants
1 bag of baby spinach leaves
2 large eggs
1 15-ounce container of whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 1/4 cuts grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
1 large ball of fresh mozzarella
1 jar of Classico Tomato Sauce (I used the Garlic and Roasted Tomato)
Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Trim the ends off of your eggplant and then cut them length-wise. Try to keep your slices even, around 1/4 inch thick. Using baking cooling racks or in a colander, spread out your eggplant slices and sprinkle them generously on both sides with salt and let them stand for at least 30 minutes and even up to an hour. This is "sweating" the eggplant, and will draw out a lot of the moisture and reduces the bitterness so common in eggplant.

I usually then rinse the eggplant with water to remove the excess salt and then pad them dry with paper towels. Then put your oven rack up about 5-6 inches from the heat source and get your broiler going. Arrange your eggplant slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet and brush the top side with olive oil. Broil your eggplant in batches, until they are tender and just beginning to brown, it normally only takes a few minutes per batch. I tend to do two cookie sheets at a time to get the process down quicker. Afterwards you can just stack your broiled eggplant on a plate to cool down some while you prepare the filling.
There are a couple of options for the spinach. You can bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and then add your spinach and boil them until just tender, usually just a few minutes. Then drain the spinach and rinse with cool water. Squeeze the spinach very dry, then chop coarsely. Then add the spinach to a large bowl.
A second option is to just chop the spinach raw and put it in the bowl. This is how I did it this past time, and it came out fine, although I may have had a little more liquid in the final result than normal, however this didn't cause any issue at all.
Once your spinach is chopped and in the bowl, stir in your ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the Parmesan, the mint, both eggs and the black pepper to taste. Stir everything together so that all ingredients are incorporated together well. Then slice up your mozzarella and set aside (do not add to the bowl of other ingredients).
Take a large glass baking dish and put half the jar of tomato sauce in, spreading it evenly over the bottom of the dish. Then take an eggplant slice and put a couple of tablespoons of your cheese/spinach mixture on one end.
Add a small slice of the mozzarella and then loosely roll up the eggplant slice, enclosing the filling. Place the roll, seam side down, atop the sauce in your baking dish and do this with each eggplant slice until you have filled your pan.
Once your pan is full, spoon the remaining half jar of sauce over the top and spread it evenly over all your rolls. Then take the remaining slices of mozzarella and place one slice on top of each roll. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan over the top and then cover with foil. Bake in the oven at 350 F for 30 minutes covered. You can bake for an additional 10 minutes uncovered to get those little crispy brown spots going on the cheese. Your final result should look something like the picture below (I made a double batch this time for a family gathering).
While fresh mint may seem like an odd addition to this dish, it is not overpowering, and really kicks the dish up a notch with a touch of summer flavor, blending really well with the flavors of the other ingredients. Enjoy!