It’s about time to dry some herbs! Let’s start with chives!

chivesIt’s that time of the summer! I try to cull and dry herbs a few times during the summer, for several reasons. One, I don’t want to lose all of the herbs if there is a problem and the plant dies, and two, if I thin out the plants a few times, they tend to grow better. This is the first time I’ve grown chives. I usually plan out my garden pretty well for the year, but I love to try a few new plants or ideas every year. Chives was a plant I purchased from Native Roots Garden Center this year. I decided to plant it in a pot, and I’m hoping I get many years of use out of it. Or just a summer of good chivage (yes, I made up a word in my excitement). The plant has been living with my lettuces on the deck this year, as it has similar light and heat requirements. Still, it’s starting to send up flowers. In my experience, a flowering plant changes the flavor of its leaves, so I figure it’s time to thin a bit. I’ve been using fresh chives in scrambled eggs and baked potatoes, but I want to dry and bag some for the winter months.

_MG_0406I started by trimming about 80% of the plants leaves about 2-3 inches from the base of the plant. That should let the chives keep growing healthy for another few months. I did something I felt silly about, but I couldn’t help it- I washed the leaves quickly before chopping them. For the dehydrator. Yes, it makes little sense to me too, but I couldn’t help myself.

_MG_0408When I got to chopping the chives, I grouped them all in a tight bundle, then chopped the leaves into small pieces. I had quite a pile before I was done! Then it was time for the dehydrator.

_MG_0410I spread the chopped pieces on the extra plastic sheets that fit on my dehydrators trays. I tried to spread them apart enough that I could get some air circulating around each piece. I ran it on a low temperature of 95 degrees, because anything higher will turn the leaves brown and burn off the aromatic chemicals that make the chives taste so well. About 3-5 hours drying in our dry air was enough to make the chives dehydrate enough for storage! Once they get fragile, they can be removed and stored. imageI finished with what I do for all dried herbs- a freezer storage quart-sized Baggie, with the air gently rolled out of it, and an oxygen absorber added to help preserve the herbs. I got the oxygen absorbers from Amazon, here. I keep them in a dark cabinet with my other spices, and I’ve been happy with herbs stored this way that are over a year old.

I can’t wait for a cold day, to pull out my chives and add them to a potato dish, or a soup… Yum!

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A quick reminder to plant fall crops now in SW CO!

If you are yearning for some tasty cool weather crops as we head into the hot month of August, have no fear. It’s time to plant seeds or seedlings for those crops! They will grow through the end of July, August and the beginning of September, and hopefully turn sweet and ripe as the cool weather returns. Remember to use row covers and frequent waterings to help these plants survive the stressful heat. I just planted lots of lettuce for fall, and I’ll be trying a crop of overwintering kale and spinach a bit later, as some of the hot crops and the last of the cool spring crops move out. Here, we can’t plant fall crops that will take more than 60 days or so to ripen, but check with your local farmers if you are outside of the SW Colorado area!

What to do with sugar snap peas (subtitled: when it rains it pours)

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With many veggies around the garden, I get a honeymoon period when I am enjoying the first delightful fruits of my labor… Not so with the sugar snap pea. When it comes ripe, I go from famine to feast immediately. Sure, I love them, and I’m so excited to see the pods swelling until that first huge picking session, but I should really learn how to stagger the plantings for that crazy veggie!

Luckily, I love the taste of frozen sugar snap peas almost as much,  and if I get to freezing the peas right away, I can enjoy the peas throughout the year. My kids actually like the older peas better, as they are easier to chew.

Case in point. Today I harvested about 2 lbs of pea pods from my 8×3 bed. I will probably harvest nearly that again later this week, and maybe a few more times before the plants get pulled. My family can’t eat so many sugar snap peas, but cleaning them, chopping them, blanching and freezing them is about 45 min to 1 hours work, and then I’m ready for the next onslaught!

I started with the whole pods, rinsed quickly. Rip the ends off and the strings will likely come with them. Once you have prepped the pea pods in this way, you can cut them into halves or thirds. While you do this, boil a large pot of water and prepare your ice bath (large bowl with water and ice cubes). Set them up in a row, with some counter space next in line, laid out with some sheets of paper towels, or some clean dish towels for drying the pea pods. Dump your peas in the boiling water, all at once or in small batches, and boil for 2 minutes exactly.

imageFish the pea pods out of the water quickly, using a slotted spoon, and dump them into the ice water to stop cooking.

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Once they cool (about 2 minutes there, as well), you can drain them and move them to the towels for quick drying.

imageCollect them in 1 or 2 cup groups, bag them in quart sized freezer bags, and you are set for up to 12 months! Freeze them quickly, and only thaw right before cooking them. They won’t be fresh, but the sweetness and some crunch will survive and make a tasty meal next winter.

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BTW, my 2 lbs or so of peas made a good meal for 4, a great snack for me, and 6 frozen cups of stored peas! That’s veggies for 3-6 meals in the winter!

Summer pasta salad

pasta saladThere are two things I love about having a summer garden. One is eating the fresh food in as many different ways as possible, and the other is grilling outdoors. I am not a native Coloradan, but I do know that we are serious about our grilling in this state. I keep my propane grill prepped and ready all through the year, but grilling in the summer months is especially wonderful. My house has no AC, so bringing the heat of cooking outdoors is a blessing.

In this spirit, I present you with Summer Pasta Salad. It’s fairly easy to make, with whatever food you have available this week. I’ve made it with zucchini, onions, red bell pepper and cabbage here, but corn, cucumbers, chard, kale, or tomatoes would be fine here as well. I also mixed my cooking styles here, but you could grill more of it, leave some fresh and uncooked, or boil more, depending on what you have. Serve it warm or serve it cold, it makes no difference. It’s all yummy!

if you are from the SW Colorado area, you will know that the zucchini, peppers and onions are not in season yet here. I splurged and went with some produce from the Palisades produce stand at DHS. They have all the veggies, several weeks before our season hits. It’s farm-grown, close enough to be a minimal carbon cost, and from good people. That works out for me. At least until  my zucchini is exploding!

Summer Pasta Salad (for 4, with extra left over)

  • Prep your veggies- in this case 2 zucchini, 1 sweet onion, 1 bell pepper and 3 cups chopped cabbage (I used Chinese cabbage, loose leaf style). Slice the zukes into long, 1/4 inch thick slices, the onion into thick 1/2 slices, the bell pepper into chunks if sautéing, halves if grilling. Bag the zukes, peppers and onion slices and add marinade. I used about a cup of Mojo and 2 Tbs. of canola oil (Mojo is a Cuban marinade made with spices, sour orange juice and lemon juice). It’s cheap and tasty for all types of marinating!onions and zukes in mojo
  • Preheat grill to high. If sautéing, preheat sauté pan to medium high.
  • Grill veggies, flipping every few minutes, until they have grill marks and are softening. If you choose to sauté the peppers and 2 cups of cabbage, add a bit of oil to the pan and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring often.

grilling

zukes on grillpeppers and cabbage

  • Remove veggies from grill and slice them into bite sized chunks. Put all cooked veggies into a serving bowl.

grilled yummieschopped veggies

  • Fill a large pot with water and 1 tsp of salt. Bring to boil.
  • Add 3 cups of rotini pasta to boiling water. Reduce heat slightly, boil for required time to make the pasta al dente (about 8 minutes). In the last 2 minutes, add remaining cabbage (1-3 cups, if not sautéing any) to soften in the hot water.
  • Drain pasta and cabbage.
  • Mix pasta and cabbage with cooling cooked veggies. Add 1/4 cup shredded parmesean cheese and 1/4 cup Italian style dressing (I used a mix of Newmans oil and vinegar and leftover mojo from the marinade, you can use whatever flavor dressing you like best).
  • Mix thoroughly and eat immediately, or let the flavors meld for a bit and then serve. Good for family dinners or potluck situations.
  • Enjoy the bounty of your garden or local fresh food!

My go-to honey wheat bread

end breadHoney wheat bread is tasty and delicious. My kids are PB&J fiends, so we go through a loaf or two a week. During the school year, I get into the habit of buying bread from the market, but making your own is tastier, fresher, healthier, and if planned right, it can fit into a normal day or nighttime routine (when I was in college, I had a friend who would rush off to his apartment between classes to knead his dough, and I don’t think that was a euphemism for any other kind of action he might have been getting into).

Anyways…

Honey Wheat Bread (2 loaves, one to make, one to freeze).

Plan for 2 1/2 hours of time from start to finish. This works well with doing laundry or cleaning the house, or can be done after bedtime or early in the morning as well (Between exercising and showering, maybe?)

bread ingredients

Prepare your yeast by mixing it with warm water in your large mixing bowl. Mix well and let stand for 5 minutes while you prep other ingredients:

1/4 cup warm water

1 package or 2 heaping tsps active dry yeast

Add to the bowl, mixing well:

1 large egg

1/4 cup, or 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

2 1/2 cups lukewarm to warm water

1 heaping tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup honey (can substitute sugar, and this is a great use of granulating honey)

Mix well, then add:

4 cups all-purpose flour

3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup wheat bran

Knead by hand until smooth, or use a mixer with a bread attachment (I use a KitchenAid, because my hands need that support).

mixing dry ingred for bread

Proof the bread by moving it to a large, greased bowl. Cover the bowl with greased plastic wrap to keep it from drying out, or use a damp towel. I put the bowl in the oven with the light on, for a consistent, warm temp (I also like using the warm feature on my oven). Plan for 1 hour of rising time, but don’t be surprised if it takes shorter or longer. Check from 30 minutes on or so. The goal is a straining-at-the-plastic-wrap, doubled in size amount of dough.

dough before rising

risen dough

Remove the dough from the oven. This is where you make your loaves. Punch down the dough and remove all air bubbles possible. Cut into 2 equal sized pieces. Reserve one in the bowl, and roll out the other on a floured cutting board. Aim for a large rectangle, roughly 9 inches tall and at least 15 wide. Fold up the ends to make it 9 inches more or less, and tightly roll the dough until you have a tight loaf. Tuck the ends under and fit into a greased, 9 inch x 5 inch loaf pan. Cover with your greased plastic wrap or damp towel.

punched dough

roll out dough

fold dough

roll dough

fold dough under

dough in panRepeat with the other loaf. Place the second loaf in a temporary plastic bag or two, doubled, to prevent air from entering easily. This one can go into the freezer until frozen solid. Cooking instructions will be at the end of this blog post!

The first loaf can proof and rise while the oven warms to 475 degrees. Plan for 45 minutes to rise. 5 minutes before popping it in the oven, take a razor blade or sharp knife, greased up, and cut a line down the loaf at a 45 degree angle. This will let the bread expand in the ovens heat. Recover with plastic wrap until ready for the oven.

risen and cut dough

Remove the plastic wrap and quickly place the loaf in the hot oven. Cook at 475 for 5 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 for 25 minutes. The crust should harden and turn brown, but the inside should be moist and perfect!

Remove the loaf to a cooling rack to cool (and remove it from the pan). Mix up a coating for the crust, to turn the bread into soft and tasty sandwich bread. Melt 1 Tbs. of butter, and mix with 1 Tbs milk. Paint over the whole crust with a basting brush, covering the top and sides. Do this while the bread is still hot, and you will have a tasty bread! It’s good warm, but will cut slightly better after 24 hours. Keep wrapped in a plastic bag to keep fresh for several days.

out of oven

butter and milk

Cooking the frozen loaf.

Once the loaf has frozen, remove it from the loaf pan and plastic bags to wrap in plastic wrap and bag it for its freezer stay. 24 hours before you want to cook it, move the loaf to the fridge and replace it in a freshly greased loaf pan and greased plastic wrap top. It will start to defrost and rise there. Keep an eye on it, and if it hasn’t risen much, move to a warm countertop 1-3 hours before cooking. It should rise to about the same size as your original loaf, an inch or two above the top of the loaf. At the proper time, pre-heat your oven to 475. The previously frozen loaves tend to be more sensitive to falling, so try to slice your loaf down the middle 10-15 minutes before putting in the oven, to give it more time to rise again. Cook as above. Your second loaf may not be quite as tall in the end, but it will be just as tasty!

Feeding the chickens: mixing them the ultimate meal

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mixed chicken foodMy chickens are free-range during the day. We have 3 acres and they probably wander 1.5-2 of them, eating bugs and grass, digging in the dirt and throwing it over themselves to stay cool, freaking out occasionally and running or flying from the cats and dog, and sometimes drinking from and exploring the ditch. I like to provide them with water in at least 2 sites, and food in the henhouse (where they return to lay eggs and sleep), as well as scattering it near some of their favorite scratching sites. Because I’m generally lazy, I don’t usually provide hen scratch in one location and pellets in another, but mix it all together. I also want to make it as cheap as possible, so I tend to want to make it as cheap as possible, and reuse items, when I can.

One great (if slightly nauseating to think of) way to do this is to bake, crush, and feed the chickens their eggshells. If you have watched hungry chickens, you probably know that they have no problem eating their own eggs. It’s a bad idea to let them get used to that, for many reasons, but if you can reuse that source of calcium for their diet, it’s good for everyone. By baking and crushing the eggshells, it turns them into a non-recognizable vitamin for the birds. You can also reuse or skip grit completely, although I usually add a small amount of new grit for my broody birds that don’t get outside much.

Baked Eggshells

I save up eggshells, next to my compost container, in a plastic bag. Once I have enough for calcium to fill my 3 gallon food container (about 20-24 empty eggshells), then I will stack them in an old metal pie pan.

unbaked eggshellsI bake them for about 30-40 minutes in the oven. The smell is not bad, but also not the most pleasant- just to warn you. Once they cool a bit, I hand-crush them about 5-8 at a time, adding them to a clean coffee grinder.

grinding eggshellsA quick pulse or two of the grinder, and I’m left with powder and smallish pieces of shell.

ground eggshells

bag of shellsBag them in a snacksized baggie, and I’m set to mix up some great food for the chicks.

Chicken Feed Recipe

I layer the following items in a 3 gallon container (with a lid) that I have to hold the feed. I usually do 3-4 layers to fill the container. They mix pretty well when I pour the food out for chickens, or scoop out cupfuls for scattering on the ground. The amounts listed are rough, I usually just eye it. You can imagine it as 4 parts chicken feed to 1 part hen scratch, with added eggshell/Calcium and grit.

  • Purina Omega-3 Chicken feed, in pellet form. About 8 cups per layer.
  • Hen scratch mix. About 2 cups per layer.
  • Crushed eggshell, from above recipe. About 2-3 Tbs per layer. Can use bagged Calcium.
  • Grit (if needed). Medium sized, about 4 Tbs per layer.
chicken pellets
Chicken Pellets
hen scratch
Hen Scratch

Spread each amount out before adding the next ingredient. Like I said, I do at least 3 layers of the mix to fill the container.

layered chicken food

This provides the healthiest, most affordable meal I can for my hens!

Light and easy slaw

imageToday was the day! My first cabbage harvest! I’ve been watching the heads grow bigger, pressing gently to make sure they were firm, worrying over the rain, watering carefully under its leaves… I’ve been babying these plants for a month and a half, and it’s finally time to enjoy them!

To celebrate, I made a simple slaw with light honey vinegar dressing. It was easy, just a lot of chopping, and it’s enough food for 2 meals or so for my family of 4 (and slaw is good for a few days, maybe even better after the first day). It would be easy to half the recipe, as well. Or to use some of the dressing as an all-purpose salad dressing (I will post my salad dressing recipe soon).

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The author, enjoying her cabbage hat!

Light and Easy Slaw

1/2 green cabbage head, chopped to bite-sized. Or mix green and red cabbage for more color

1/2 sweet onion, chopped to slightly smaller size than the cabbage

1/2 apple, cored and chopped to onion sized pieces

1/2 cup raisins

Rinse and drain cabbage, then mix all together in a large bowl.

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Slaw Dressing

2 Tbs honey, heated for 20 secs or so in microwave. This is a great use for granulating honey!

2 Tbs lemon juice

2 Tbs apple cider vinegar

3 Tbs olive oil

1 tsp minced garlic, dried or fresh

1/2 tsp celery salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

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Mix all and whisk until incorporated. Use immediately for slaw, or refrigerate for up to a week for salad dressing. Whisk before using.

imageAdd the dressing and let the slaw sit for at least 30 minutes to incorporate the flavors. Serve and enjoy!