Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

For weeks we have been eyeing all the green tomatoes out in the garden and wondering when they were going to ripen.  Our customers at our farmers' market have been asking the same question.  It appears we are all starved for locally grown, vine-ripened tomatoes to replace the bland-tasting ones from the grocery store.  

Well, I'm happy to announce that the time has come and they are getting ripe faster than we can eat or sell them.  So, my thoughts have already turned to how I can use/preserve the abundance.   Last year, I wrote a blog entry about how I froze the excess tomatoes we had.



Up until this year, I was in the workforce and rarely cooked anything that took much effort.  I was always tired when I got home and used jarred sauces when making spaghetti or pizza.  Today, however, when looking at all the ripe tomatoes laying on my kitchen counter, I decided I could surely make my own sauces!  How hard could it be?

Spaghetti sauce was my first candidate to try.  A friend had given me a good recipe a couple of months ago and I searched the internet for others.  As is my usual habit, I took what I liked from each.  The recipe I'm going to share here is a amalgamation of several recipes. 

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I used Aleppo)
3 cups fresh tomatoes that have been run through the food processor
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste.

Directions:
Heat the oil in a dutch oven or other heavy pan.  Saute the onion in the oil until opaque.  Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds.   Add the oregano, basil, pepper flakes and tomatoes.  Turn heat to medium and cook until some of the juice has evaporated.  Turn heat to low and continue cooking until desired consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add sugar, if desired, and cook a couple more minutes.

Here's a picture of my homemade spaghetti sauce.



It was so easy and turned out so tasty.  I am surprised at how much better I like it than the jarred kinds I have always used in the past!  Also, all the ingredients in this recipe were grown in our garden (except olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper, of course).

I will be using this sauce tomorrow for dinner.   However, my plan is to use a lot of our fresh tomatoes in this recipe, then freeze the sauce in pint-sized units so we can enjoy it all winter.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Preserving Garden Goodness - Cream Corn

Corn season is in full swing and we harvested our first bunch of corn last week.  Last year I froze all the corn we did not eat as corn-on-the-cob and we were able to enjoy it all winter and into the spring.  I wrote about how I froze the corn last year in this blog entry:



It was so good that I surely wanted to freeze some more corn-on-the-cob this year as well.  However, I ran across a tool in the basement that I remember my mother using when I was a kid to make "cream" corn.  Here's a picture of it.



You place this over a large bowl with the corn cob on the right side and slide it over the metal plate in the middle which cuts off the tops of the kernels and scrapes the "cream" from the cob.  Here's a close-up of the metal plate.



I placed a bowl on the seat of a chair, set the device over the bowl and sat on another chair facing it.  This allowed me to use the weight of my upper body to help put pressure on the corn cob.



You have to apply a lot of downward pressure to get all the kernels and cream scraped off.  So, my arm got a good workout!  It also makes quite a mess.



At this point, it was ready to freeze.  Most vegetables should be "blanched" before freezing to stop enzyme action that causes them to deteriorate while frozen.   All the web sites I read said to blanch the corn while it was still on the cob and then scrape it.  But, I remember my mother scraping the corn first and then heating it on the top of the stove in a large pot before freezing it.  So, I assume she was blanching at that point.

Anyway, I put it in a large pot and set it on the stove to heat.



As it heated, it began to thicken and I had to stir it almost constantly to keep it from sticking.  I decided to add some water which helped somewhat.  I wish I could have called my mom to get some advice, but she passed away many years ago and so I was on my own.  

I planned to boil it for 10 minutes before putting it into freezer bags, but it never really boiled because it was too thick!   I ended up heating it until it was steaming and kept it at that temperature for about 10 minutes.  I finally tasted it and it tasted done, so I pronounced it ready to freeze.  And, here is the result.


If I do this again next year, I will try blanching it on the cob before I cut it off and see if that works better.  In either case, the corn cutter/creamer tool is very helpful and can still be found online.  Here is one link I found for it:  Corn Cutter/Creamer




Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mullein

Last fall, I noticed a couple of odd-looking plants that were a pretty shade of green against the dead grass.  Here's a picture of one of them.


I decided to leave them be and see what they grew into in the spring.  They pretty much stayed the same all winter, but as spring arrived, they began to change.  The following picture was taken in May.  Notice the "rosette" of leaves in the middle.


This rosette gradually grew into a flower stalk, like this.


The other plant was inside our dog pen.  Here it is.


The flowers were yellow and grew out of this interesting cone-like structure.


If you looked closely at the flowers, you could see lots of ants inside them.  


I found the entire plant to be quite striking!  As summer arrived, the flower stalk grew taller.


And taller!


This plant is a wild herb called "Mullein".  It is apparently invasive in some areas, so I plan to cut it down before it produces seed.  However, the website http://www.eattheweeds.com/ has lots of information on uses for this plant.  If you search the site, you'll find references to its leaves being used for everything from an herbal tea to help one sleep or soothe a cough to them being smoked!  Of course, most of this information is found in the forums, so it is not medically proven nor guaranteed not to be harmful.  However, I believe that I will gather some of the leaves and give the tea idea a try.

If, by chance, you do not see any more posts from me, then this could be BAD news and a warning not to try it yourself!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Green Bean Season

It's green bean season and we are picking them daily.  As usual, most of them go to the farmers' market with our other produce.  But, I rescue a bunch of them every few days to cook for ourselves.

If you've ever cooked fresh green beans, you know that it is a time-consuming process to break off the ends and get them ready to cook.  So, I want to share the technique I use to speed up this process, plus a couple of simple recipes.

First, I pick out several beans and, using a chef's knife, cut the stem ends off.



Next, cut the beans into one-inch lengths.  You may want to discard the "pointy" ends, but as long as the beans are not too large, it is fine to cook these as well. 



Occasionally, there may be "curvy" beans that you have to cut individually.





Put the beans into a pot and add just enough water to cover.  At this point, you can use your imagination when adding seasonings.  In the picture below, I simply added some dill weed, cooked the beans until done, splashed in a dash of olive oil, and added salt and pepper to taste.  The olive oil adds flavor and robustness, while the dill adds a note of freshness.  Olive oil is one of the "good" fats.  So, while this recipe contains a bit of fat, it is "healthy" fat. 



If you wish to be a bit more naughty, try this.  Fry a couple of pieces of bacon until done.  Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels.  Add a half cup of chopped onion to the bacon drippings and cook until translucent.  Next, add the beans to the pan with the onion, along with enough water to cover.  Cook until the beans are tender.  Add the crumbled bacon and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Chicken Introductions

When I wrote the entry about the "chicken tractor" that Tom built for the new chicks after they outgrew their brooder, we fully intended to leave them in the tractor until the fall.



However, the chicks were using the nest boxes in the coop part (the enclosed little house on the end) as roosts.  If you know anything about chickens, you know that they "poop" while they roost, so the nest boxes were getting really nasty.  Even though the coop had roost bars, they insisted on using the nests as perches on which to roost.  This was not a good situation.  We did not want them to get used to soiling the nest boxes.  Otherwise, when they begin laying eggs, it would lead to unsanitary conditions for the eggs to be laid in.

As a result, we decided to move them in with the older chickens last week.  Our grandson was here last week, so he got to help with the move.  He and Tom pulled the tractor over to the chicken coop.



There was really no way to pull the tractor right up to the gate to the chicken pen, so we caught the young chickens and put them in a dog crate to transport them from the tractor to the pen.



Our outside chicken pen is divided into 2 sections, both covered with bird netting to keep the chickens in and things like hawks out.  Because we were concerned about how the older hens would react to the new-comers, we shut them out of the main pen.  



After being let out, the youngsters spent time exploring their new home.  But, they tended to stayed together in a tight group.





The first night went pretty well.  The old hens seemed to ignore the newcomers and went in to roost as usual.  As it got dark, the youngsters went in as well.  But, they seemed to be unsure where they should roost and would hop up on the raised door to the coop.  The door, being slanted, caused them to slip and slide and lose their balance, which in turn caused a lot of commotion.  I finally picked each one up individually and placed them on the roost bars.  This caused some commotion too, but they all eventually settled down to sleep.



The next day the "pecking order" started.  The older hens began establishing their dominance in the flock, while the youngsters were totally intimidated!



The younger ones ended up staying inside most of the time until I finally closed the door to the coop to keep them out.  If they had a battering ram, I'm sure they would have used it to get back inside and away from "Gertrude".



So far, nobody has been hurt and I've not noticed many direct confrontations because the youngsters stick together and try to avoid the older hens.  I suppose order will eventually be restored and everyone will settle down.  Sooner would be nice, rather than later.



Thursday, June 12, 2014

Time to Dig Garlic

In Oklahoma, we find it best to plant our garlic in the fall, mulch it heavily and let it overwinter in the ground.  Tom is usually the one who plants the garlic, but being that I was newly retired at the time, guess who was elected for the chore.  I wrote an entry about it.  


Here's what the bed in that entry looks like now.


You know the garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves start turning brown and dying, like  you see above.  And, because I was the one to plant it, guess who gets to harvest it this year!

It has rained quite a bit lately, so I found that harvesting it was easy.  I just pulled it up.  No shovel or digging was required.  I harvested only the garlic in the far end of this bed and here is how much I got.


It was pretty muddy and dirty, so I took the hose and cleaned it up.


I really like the sprayer nozzle that you see in this picture.  The red thing can be pushed forward to shut the water off and the end of the nozzle turns to create a variety of spray patterns, such as shower, soaker, jet, stream, etc.

Some of the garlic had seed heads, like this.


If left alone, the "ball" on the end would break open and create a flower from which seed would form.  These are called "scapes" and we cut them off so that the plant will concentrate its energy into forming the root portion and not on making seed.  

Garlic scapes have a mild garlic taste and are considered a delicacy in some areas.  Only the 3 or 4 inches below the flower bud are eaten.  This part of the stalk is fairly tender and can be chopped to be used in stir-fries and other recipes calling for garlic.  One person that I know makes a sort of garlic "pesto" out of these.

Here's a closer look at one of the flower buds.


I cut the scapes off and put them in a jar of water on the kitchen counter.  They made a rather attractive arrangement.


Now, I just need to get energetic and cook something using them.  Oh, yes, and I still have to harvest the rest of that bed.  Sigh.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Dried Tomato Powder

In the summer of 2012, I wrote a blog entry about the tomatoes I dried during one of our years of extreme drought.  

As you can see in that article, I ended up with a jar full of dried tomato slices.  I put these on a shelf in my pantry intending to find a recipe in which I could use them.  Unfortunately, other canned goods got put on the shelf in front of them and they were "out of sight, out of mind".  I forgot all about them until I ran across them earlier this spring when I was cleaning out my pantry!

I was disgusted with myself.  Sigh.  However, upon closer inspection, they appeared fine.  The jar they were in had a rubber seal and they had not been opened since the day I put them in the jar.   So, now, what to do with them?

I recalled reading somewhere that you could grind dried tomatoes into a powder that could be used in chili, meatloaves, soups, sauces and so forth.  This is what I decided to do with them.

I dug out my coffee grinder (which I have not used to grind coffee beans in years).


I generally use it to grind dried herbs into powder.  But, this time I loaded it full of the dried tomato slices and whirled away.  This is what they looked like afterwards.


I could only grind a few tomatoes at a time, so it took several batches to get them all processed.  To store the powder, I used an empty spice jar that I saved after the spice was gone and labeled it with the new contents.  Okay, so I probably could have used better penmanship when labeling the jar.  I'm sure I was in a hurry to finish cleaning my pantry.  Ha!  NOT.


I've put the jar with my spices, so I see it every time I retrieve the ingredients I need for a recipe.  Hopefully, I won't forget about it.