Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It was bound to happen eventually...

I've had my first failed experiment. :-( When I got home from work today, Hubby was again complaining about an odd odor emanating from the study - more specifically the sauerkraut fermentation vessel. :-( Sure enough, when I took a peek, there was a thin layer of white slime over the top. It spoiled. Hubby and I took it outside and dumped it in a trash bag. Guess I'll either have to try again or continue making sauerkraut with the recipe I already use - simmering it in beer (is that really so bad?!). I need to figure out which it's going to be. I've got several heads growing out in the garden and a person can only eat so much cole slaw. :-)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Happy Birthday White-E!

Da berfday boy!
Friday night was our friend White-E's 27th birthday. We had a great time hanging out with everybody up at our favorite watering hole, Boondoggles.
Ben and Sierra

"The Old Marrieds" ;-)
Matt and Sara

"The Newlyweds"
Phil and Nikki

White-E and Mrs White-E and the Bellock Baby
The "Dysfunctional Family"

My Urban Farm

I got sooooooo much stuff done Saturday! I'm so impressed with myself. The 2009 veggie patch is such an experiment in so many ways. We've experimented with different growing mediums for starting seeds (expanded shale - sucks; vermiculite - sucks; "seed starting" mix from Miracle Grow - seeds very well, but can get a green slime on the top :-(; Jiffy incubator tray with peat circles - AWESOME! I LOVE THESE), we've also experimented with some unconventional containers (hanging tomatoes, hanging strawberries (below), and even an old wicker laundry basket now being used to grow potatoes). Even the whole square food technique is an experiment for us this year. And, though I've been blogging for a while now about the garden, the experiment just really started. All the garden squares are full now, as are numerous other containers and random spots around the garden. Surprisingly, the "salad bar" that we set up in one of the non-fenced flowerbeds with extra seedlings has not yet been ravished by the Brats (I know - I just cursed it). We might get even more veg out of the garden this year than we thought! So, here's how it's looking right now:
2 bell peppers, 1 jalapeno pepper, horseradish, basil, parsley, chives, cilantro, radishes, red and yellow onions, 2 kinds of green beans, 1 variety of yellow wax beans, 2 varietals of pickling cucumbers, and one square of marigolds and nasturtiums.
3 cabbages, 1 broccoli, 4 varietals of lettuce (2 plants each), 6 spinach, carrots, snow peas, 3 corn plants; 4 strawberries.
Hanging Strawberries

Still hanging in there! 2 cabbages, 1 broccoli and 5 Romaines.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Some Goings-On

The weather down here in coastal Texas has been very warm the past few weeks, even for here. And subsequently, the garden has EXPLODED with growth!
We planted seven Romaine plants way back when and we're planning to let three of them "head" - the rest we're going to occasionally steal the outer leaves and use them in baby greens salads. They are ready to snack on! This weekend, we'll be eating salad made with our first 2009 harvest!
Two of the Romaine plants
The cabbages are also coming along nicely. We're a long way from sauerkraut, but the plants have more than doubled in size.
One day, these will be sauerkraut!
The hanging tomato plants have flowers on them already! Seems awfully early to me for fresh tomatoes, but I'm not going to complain! I haven't seen any bees or other pollinators around though, so I might have to get out there with a q-tip or something and try to pollinate the flowers myself. :-)
I will never again mock crazy gardening ideas...
A few weekends ago, Hubby and I planted a couple Russet potatoes that we had sprouting in the pantry and plants are already starting to form there as well. I'm not sure that we'll actually get any potatoes out of these as it is waaaay early for potatoes, but even if we don't, I've always loved the look of potato plants. They have beautiful foliage and very nice flowers.
Aren't the baby taters CU-UTE?! ;-)
This weekend is going to be a very busy one outside. So much needs to be direct-sown or moved from the incubator trays. By the end of the weekend, we should have started corn, bell peppers and jalapenos, bush beans and wax beans, more snow peas, two varieties of cucumbers, more spinach, strawberries (hanging and in the ground), more radishes, more carrots, more lettuce (green leaf this time), and the herbs. That'll be in addition to what's already growing: the Romaine, cabbage, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, snow peas, carrots, red and yellow onions, radishes and horseradish. :-) HOW FUN!!

In other news, Hubby and I continue to make our own bread for sandwiches, etc. The loaves this time came out gorgeous - not misshappen and lopsided like last time. Guess I've mastered the art of rolling the dough out and forming loaves that will actually fit in the loaf pans. :-) This weekend we're going to attempt our first homemade pizza. :-) I'll try to document the pizza process. We've been wanting to make our own pizzas for the longest, so if this works out, we might be gorging ourselves on pizza for a while. Once we master pizza in the oven, we'll be trying it outside on the BBQ pit. Hubby has also challenged me to make our own hot dog/hamburger rolls, but I'm a little stumped on how to shape them. I wonder if Alton Brown has any suggestions... ;-)

The sauerkraut experiment is still ongoing. The first week, Hubby complained a little about the smell coming from the fermentation vessel, but now that fermentation is slowing down, it's not bubbling as much and we can't smell it anymore. We'll know in another two weeks if it's edible. :-)

Last weekend's chicken broth experiment turned out BEA-UTIFULLY! We got seven quarts of homemade broth and I FINALLY got to play with my new pressure canner. Fun, fun, fun! Hubby was slightly nervous for a while with the canner. I think he thought I was going to blow up the house or something. Turned out to be way easier than I was expecting, and I think it put most of his fears to rest. Can't wait till I can make pickles and spaghetti sauce out of the garden. :-) I might even have to bribe my cubemate at work, Michelle, to get her mom's salsa recipe. YUM-O!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What to do when it's raining outside and Kroger has whole chickens on sale...

It's raining, it's pouring! gardening today. :-(
Since I like to spend at least one weekend day being productive, I wrote up a menu and grocery shopping list for Hubby and I. I am a HUGE believer in menu writing. Write the menu based on the grocery store ads, go to the store with a list and try not to deviate from it. I try to get 12 or 14 entrees on every menu and that usually enables us to go to the grocery store just once a month. It saves us tons of time and who doesn't want just a little more time?! Getting off soapbox now.
While I was checking the ad for Kroger (our nearest grocery store), I noticed that they had whole chickens on sale for 69 cents a pound. I've seen better sales before, but that's a least half price of regular, so off I went! I bought 4 hens, the largest being 4.9 pounds. That's $3 a chicken! That's fantastic!
A few years ago, Hubby and I were watching Alton Brown on the food network and he did a segment in the following show about sectioning up whole chickens.

Hubby paid quite a bit more attention than I did and has "butchered" birds for us several times.
My menu called for two batches of chicken breasts (Thai Peanut Chicken and Chicken Parmesan) and I also needed chicken meat for 2 casseroles (Granny's Chicken Spaghetti and King Ranch Casserole). Also on the menu was a pork loin using my mother-in-law's FANTASTIC terriyaki glaze recipe. So, our four whole chickens were sectioned out into:
2 Foodsaver bags of 4 breasts,
2 Foodsaver bags of thighs and drumsticks (perfect for casseroles), and a Foodsaver bag of chicken wings that I figure I can hit with the Terriyaki glaze and call an appetizer.Chicken Wings! With 4 "wings" per bird, we got 16 wings! YUM!
$12 worth of chicken and 30 minutes worth of work, I had meat for 4 menus items (at least 10 meals with the casseroles) and I had a snack item to boot!
But that's not all! After Hubby was done chopping everybody up, I got to looking at those four carcasses. Awful wasteful just to throw them away... So into a stockpot with some onions, carrots and salt they went to make some homemade broth. I checked the canning book that came with my pressure canner and discovered I can actually can the chicken broth and make it shelf stable!
After simmering the chicken for 45 minutes, I strained out all the bones and veg. Since I hate waste, I pulled as much meat off the bones as I could to make a yummy chicken salad. I even gave each of the Brats a little cooked chicken liver as a treat (even Tiki!).

French Toast!!

Hubby must have read my mind (or my blog) about making french toast with the homemade bread. As I was clutching desperately to my first cup of coffee this morning, some amazing aromas started issuing from the kitchen. A few minutes later, two plates of big, fat slices of french toast made their way to the table, delicately sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. FANTASTICO!! Not only am I married to the world's sweetest Hubby who brings me daisies and roses for Valentine's Day, but he cooks me homemade french toast as well! :-D
Sorry - no pics. My brain doesn't operate at 100% in the morning and this was during the first cup of coffee (Celestial Seasoning's Caramel Mocha freshly ground and brewed for yours truly by adorable Hubby).
Eat yer heart out. :-D

Saturday, February 7, 2009

What Else I Did Today...

I made my first ever yeast bread!!!

I know that's probably not very exciting to anyone but me, but I figure it's blog-worthy. I LOVE breads. And I LOOOOOVE the smell of bread baking. I can stand for an hour inhaling at the grocery store bakery. I have made all kinds of quick breads...banana, beer, zucchini, cranberry, pumpkin, etc. I enjoy baking. Yet yeast breads have always scared the crap out of me. The whole idea of proofing the yeast and punching the dough is just terrifying to me. It's like a souffle - so many chances for something to go wrong! I've just never had the nerve - even though I have a KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook and don't even have to mix the batter by hand (thanks Mom and Dad)! But, the other day, I was reading on a website about being more self sufficient and one of the things it highly recommended was making your own bread. This makes perfect sense on so many levels to me. Hubby and I don't eat normal "sandwich bread." I like to try all the artisan-type breads and even sandwiches are normally on Italian bread. So! I tried it today! My first ever yeast bread.
It started out as a list of ingredients...flour, yeast, water, milk, butter, salt, sugar...A little time in the mixer...
And I had myself an ooey, gooey ball of sticky dough. :-) I put that in a greased bowl in the oven (which was off), covered it with a towel, and got a LOT of ooey, gooey dough!

The recipe called for the dough to be divided in half and rolled out, then put into 2 loaf pans and put back in the oven (still off) to proof for another hour and hopefully double in size again...

Then, I heated the oven to 400 (F) and in they went for 30 mins until they were a lovely, golden brown (if slightly lopsided)...
The results???
I'll be honest with you, dear reader. As I was cutting a slice of one of the loaves off, I was full of nerves. The crust was a little...well, crusty, I thought. What if the inside was crusty too? With my heart in my throat, I took a bite...
And then did a HAPPY DANCE!!!! I MADE BREAD!!!!! Oh Happy Day! This recipe was a simple white loaf, but now I've got a hankering to make a slightly more complicated french loaf. There'll be no stopping me now! Each loaf is supposed to be cut into 16 slices, so between the two of them (don't worry, they'll be housed in the fridge after they cool), we'll have enough for 16 sandwiches. That's two weeks of lunches for me and that still leaves 7 slices of bread. :-) Maybe Hubby will actually take his lunch one or two days. Not holding my breath, but it could happen! Now I need to go back to HEB and get some more of their YUMMY sliced turkey and jalapeno lunch meat. I will be one happy camper for lunch. Oooooooooh...I wonder how'd it do for French Toast...
Funny side note: Hubby said that with his ability to make beer, and my ability to make bread, we're masters of yeast. :-) Sure he meant it to sound sweeter and less gross than that. :-)
Yay - I made bread. :-D


I am one of those interesting people that really likes sauerkraut. I wasn't raised eating it (pretty sure my mom HATES the stuff), but I have developed quite a taste for it. Whether it's on sausage sandwiches or over pork loin, I'm a fan. I have a recipe for sauerkraut that Hubby and I make whenever we're going to make kielbasa sandwiches. It's a pretty good recipe, but it's not good for "putting up" and using at a later date. It's cooked at a high temperature and that makes the 'kraut limp and slightly discolored. I've always wanted to make sauerkraut the old fashioned way and can it, but I didn't have a pressure canner. Until now!!!

What's the old fashioned way? I'm so glad you asked!!! The old fashioned way to "cook" sauerkraut is not to cook it at all. You basically salt some cabbage with some spices and then let it ferment in it's own juices for 3-4 weeks. It's not cooked, it's not refrigerated, but it is the authentic way to prepare sauerkraut. In the good old days, folks had big, ceramic crocks that they made their kraut in. I was very excited at Christmas to receive just such a crock from my mother-in-law (she'd kept it in a closet for years), but it turns out it's cracked. :-( I ended up going to Target today and bought a lovely 2 gallon glass jug to make my yummies in.
So, here is "Sauerkraut Making 101" for anyone who is interested...
Slice 5 lbs of cabbage into dime-width slivers
Mix thoroughly with 3 Tablespoons pickling salt (you have to use pickling salt cuz normal salt has iodine in it and that stops fermentation)
I also mixed in about 1 Tablespoon caraway seeds and 1.5 Tablespoons mustard seeds, but that's just because I like "spicy" kraut.
Pack the mixture tightly (and we're talking, use some elbow grease and the palms of your CLEANED hands to squish the cabbage down) into your crock and let sit about an hour. The salt starts to draw moisture out of the cabbage making a natural brine in which to ferment. If the brine doesn't come up over the cabbage, mix 1.5 Tablespoons of pickling salt in 1 quart water and cover the cabbage. Fill a gallon size ziplock bag with 2 quarts of brined water using the same recipe as above and use that as a weight to keep the fermenting cabbage below the water line in the crock.
Keep the crock of fermenting cabbage in a cool (70-75 F) place for 3-4 weeks, then can and process in the pressure canner at 10lbs for 10 mins.
Since our fermentation vessel is just a clear glass jar, and light can discolor the sauerkraut as it ferments, we've currently got our cabbage fermenting in a big box in our study. ;-)
Wish us luck with the 'kraut and I'll let you know in a month or so how it's doing.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Most Eco UNfriendly Thing I've Ever Done

Last year, Hubby and I got to looking at the front of our house and thought it came up short on curb appeal. So, we got out the shovels and dug a new flower bed. We spent whole weekends bringing in dirt and planting bushes and plants. We arranged an irrigation system from our gutters to some of the thirstier plants. We agonized over the cement bird bath or a colored ceramic one.
And we put in a fountain.
We thought the fountain would be eco-friendly. We put it on a timer to shut off at night and for a few hours during the day to save electricity and water evaporation. Birds and other animals could drink out of it. The babbling water sound would be soothing to ourselves and neighbors, therefore ensuring peace in the land. Yes, it would also add visual appeal, but we truly had the best of intentions when we put it in.

My owners are environmentally responsible and set me to turn off during the day so as not to waste water and electricity.

In the last year, we have discovered that the babbling sound IS in fact appreciated by ourselves and our neighbors. It is also appreciated by a very large crane that likes to stand up to his ankles in the fountain and then poop on our sidewalk. It is also appreciated by several outdoor cats in the 'hood who like to drink out of it and then use the flowerbed as a kitty box. Toads are lured in (I'm guessung by the chemical-hiding plastic lily pad) and then find they can't get out; so they drown. During the week of no electricity after Hurricane Ike, we had to empty the pond because it was quickly turning into a mosquito breeding factory. But most importantly, this fountain loses at least 3 gallons a day of water to evaporation!! Good grief! We could probably build our own thundercloud with what comes out of our pond every week. I don't know that we've actually noticed a difference in our water bill, but it just feels truly wasteful that we've got all this water going in and then disappearing, literally, into thin air. Well, now I know. My next attempt at a water feature will have to have a nature based water collection system. I'm thinking of some overly-complicated system of rain barrels and hoses. That'll be pretty. ;-)
"I'm a frog-strangling water hog!"