Thursday, January 29, 2015

Planning my #PerennialGarden Additions

My first garden was a very minor success, almost a failure if you look at it wrong. I did get a few veggies out of it, and some of the thickest, prettiest grass you ever saw! But I learned so much from that one little patch of dirt. Looking back I wouldn't change a thing. My understanding of gardening was that you till up the dirt, plant seedling and hover like a mother hen, watering and weeding, pruning and with any luck harvesting. I had some luck with the corn and squash, and actually grew some lettuce. This is when I learned about mulching to control weeds. It was too late for some of it, but now i knew. In my digging around I learned about Lasagna Gardening.
You can look it up if you want to. Some of it, and even what I read back then will give you specific proportions of this and that. You can also look up Sheet Mulching if your in a permaculture mood. I used what I had. The basic idea is to lay down something like cardboard or news paper (several layers if you use paper) On top of that you layer leaves, compost, manure, yard clippings, kitchen get it. If you do this in the fall, by spring you have a rich, weed freeish area to work with. Yes, I said freeish. Since you don't turn the "compost" you will have some things try to sprout on their own. But because the soil underneath will have been worked by worms, and the roots and grass will have time to decay, weeding will be easy.
AND SO, back to the point.
Perennial plants tend to be more expensive than annuals so I only add a couple a year. By doing this I can take the best care of them so they will take care of me from then on.
I already have one row of Asperagus, about 15' long (about 7 crowns when planted). This year is it's 3rd year so I can harvest it fully for about 3 weeks. Then you let it go to seed to allow the roots to gain the nutrition for next year. I plan on planting another row behind it. 
One of my favorite sights.

Another of my favorite garden perennials is Horseradish. It does need to be dug and replanted from cuttings, but it is such a hardy plant and we love the spice. I have one good patch going and intend to spread it out.

When you dig up the root to use, cut about 2" off the bottom and 1" off the top and replant (trim off leaves).
This year I plan to add Egyption Walking Onions. These are a shallot size onion. The nodules that they produce at the top of the stalk just get buried as you harvest the onion in the fall and are the start for the next season.
When the stalks turn brown, harvest, or cover with mulch and let them set up for a larger harvest next season.
Last year I grew a few strawberries in a container. I just ate them as I cut herbs to dry for later. I bought what I canned and cooked with from a local farmer. I think they would be a good project for this year.
Finally Jerusalem Artichoke.
Aside from just being pretty, these have an edible root and are prolific growers. The root is good for people and as a great supplement for livestock. Around here (SE Illinois) they grow along ditch banks on the back roads and I hope to get my roots for free. Oh yeah, and fruit trees. But I have a whole plan for those that I will share with you next time.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Best Kitchen Tools for Herbs, Spices and Mixes.

Spent this morning going through my herbs, spices and mixes to see what needed refilled. After a quick trip to get a few things like cumin and salt, I can restock. I make a lot of my mixes, like taco seasoning and herb mixes. (some recipes are in my blog dated Jan 9..Mixes You Should Make Yourself). Besides the satisfaction of refilling my shelves with things that I made myself, I get to break out my toys (tools).  My mortar and pestle is my favorite. This is perfect for making dehydrated onion into flakes or powder and I highly suggest it if you are trying to make a hot pepper powder. I dry peppers all summer and the ones that haven't found a use by now get crushed into a powder to use like cayenne.

At least a couple times a year I end up with enough onions to be worth dehydrating. The food processor and the slicing blade make this a quick, tho still tearful, chore. Into the dehydrator they go until crispy. Depends on how thick you layer them on.
I also like this the best if I'm slicing a lot of potatoes or things like carrots to dry. Slicing or shredding you can get through a lot in no time. 
In case of emergency having a good ol' box grater is a must. I use this most of the time when just doing a small amount of anything for supper.
I love this little thing for stuff like peppercorns, mustard seed and rosemary (when I don't use the mortar) because otherwise I tend to have things shooting all over the kitchen, and quick dry rub mixes or salad dressings.
 Yep. A cardboard can flat.
An extra window screen.
 And my lil baby dehydrator. The 
flats are great for so many things. I always grab all of them I can find when I'm in the store. For the more tender herbs that don't need heat, like parsley or basil, I just snip them off and lay on these flats. Nothing moist, obviously it'll just stick. These are also great for draining fried foods and a million things camping... For bigger batches I like the window screen, just scrub it with soap and water and let it dry, then lay out whatever you have. Air can circulate and it's easy to move from inside to outside as the weather determines. The dehydrator, for me, is the best choice for some things like potatoes, garlic or fruit leathers. (NOTE if your drying something really spicy like jalapenos, I would suggest going really primitive and running a thread through them with a sewing needly. Just hang them somewhere out of the sun and let them dry naturally. My dehydrator has a fan and the time I tried to dry hot peppers in it I spent the rest of the day with burning eyes...)  Of course an oven set to it's lowest and minded can also do most of these things just as well. Anything that isn't dry enough at the end of the day, just turn off the oven and start again in the morning. 
I'm adding pins to my canning and preserving board on Pinterest to share more detailed descriptions of how to dehydrate things safely and with the best outcome. I've added a link just below my google badge that takes you to my boards.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Great Spanish Rice!

This is the Spanish Rice recipe that I grew up with and has been a favorite with my own family.
1/2 lb bacon, diced
1c rice
1/2c diced onion
1/4c diced bell pepper
1lb can tomatoes
2c water
1/4c ketchup
1t salt
1t pepper
(Dash of cumin if you like)
Fry bacon till crisp, set aside reserving drippings. Saute rice, onion and bell pepper in drippings for about 2 min. Add back bacon and add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer until rice has absorbed all liquid. (about 45 min).
If I have home canned tomatoes I use 1 quart of diced or whole tomatoes (just squish them with your hands). If you only have tomato juice, add about 1c juice and the 2c water. This can be made more spicy if you like with either a pinch of red pepper flakes or cayenne, or a few diced jalapenos.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Just #Quilt It!

I made my first quilt about 8 years ago. I was working in a great little local store that sold clothes and boots and had the largest selection of fabric that I had ever seen. Every day that I went in and the beautiful colors and designs would call to me. I wanted to make something, I wanted to make a quilt. But the word quilt was intimidating. That's for people with skill. Replacing a button or sewing on the occasional arm or leg of a teddy bear didn't say "skill" to me. I had done a little cross stitch, but only from the kits. So, I tried to ignore it. I almost gave in once, but standing in the sewing section at Walmart and looking at all the tools you needed, I walked out with a couple bottles of paint instead. I had a yard gnome that could use some touching up. I finally couldn't take it anymore when some fabric I had been looking at went on sale. I bought a couple yards. 2 print and 2 solid. When I got home I laid the blanket off the bed on the floor and measured it (with the Big Guys' tape measure). I got out my sewing kit which included a couple needles, scissors and a spool of white thread. Squares seemed like a sensible starter pattern. I worked on it every day. I cut the fabric into strips and then into squares. Thought I had planned a pattern out on paper, but as you can see it got a little hap hazard. I sewed the squares together and then strips of squares to the next strip.. Didn't take long til I added a thimble to my kit! When I got the top to the point that I was satisfied I bought the pre-rolled batting and a piece of material for the backing.
I used my largest cross-stitch hoop and stitched around all the shapes and flowers on the white squares. For the binding I studied on an old quilt that I had of my great-grandmothers. Cut a 3 inch strip. Fold in half, fold halves in half, sew around the outer edge of quilt then attach fold this over and sew as the 'finished edge'. 
I sold this first quilt to an Americans Veteran Organization for a raffle. Although sometimes I wish I had it back, I know that it raised money for a good cause and whoever has it has something with soul in every stitch.
From there began my obsession and since then I have made several more.
My daughter at Heritage Days.
I haven't yet gotten the patience to get into the amazing patterns that there are, I just work with squares, triangle and rectangles. And Yes, that is a chick in the lower left of the pic. lol

The moral of the story is that it can turn into something amazing if you find an idea and run with it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

What's For Supper? Ribs and Twice Baked Potatoes.

I cook. That's what I do for my family. I garden so I can can and preserve it so I can cook it. Livestock either produces a food source or the money to buy the things we don't produce ourselves. My Big Guy lovingly says that "I've done so much with so little for so long, that I can do almost anything with next to nothing". My family are big eaters, so anything that can go a long way for a little becomes a favorite. Potatoes are generaly easy to grow , and in pinch cheap at the store if you buy in bulk.
I bake these at 350' for about an hour then scoop out the flesh. If you use bigger taters and it's not cooked completely that's ok. The flesh goes into a bowl with salt, pepper, butter and milk. If it wasn't quite done it can go in the microwave to finish (yes, I said the M word, sorry) or in a pan on the stove. 
Sometimes I like to fry the skins. It just gives them a fun crunch, but is totally unnecessary. Heat oil to about 375' and drop a few in at a time. Cook until they are golden then drain, skin side up, on paper towel or a paper bag.If you get ready to fill any of these and thy are not as crisp as you would like just drop back in the oil for a min.
For the filling (this is where the fun comes in), mash your starter mix, masher or hand mixer. I fill a couple of the skins with this plain mixture because between the kids and the friends that they always have coming over there are some that don't like cheese (who knew). In the rest of the mixture I add cheese, whatever I have handy and fill a few more because some don't like bacon/ham (again who knew).
The rest of the mixture get's the works. Bacon or ham, broccoli, onion, peppers what ever I came up with for that night. The great part is that you would have chopped up all the ingredients anyway. This way you can pretend that you went out of your way to suit everyone while really only breaking up you stirring. I stick these in the oven @425' until the tops get slightly brown. Maybe 15 or 20 mins. Perfect amount of time for the meat to rest, set out salsa, sour cream and some of the extra topping for anyone that fell in between a mix.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Veggies that regrow.

These are the veggies, that I have growing now, from the kitchen scraps. Korean Napa, Celery, Scallions and a pepper plant that I just threw in because it grew itself in my compost last year. I have a red onion, 3 hearts of Romain and more scallions in water to get ready to plant. I intend on moving the celery and the scallions to a window box planter so I can have several going at one time. Can't believe I didn't learn about this sooner. I hate it when I realize that I've been wasting something, but am equally satisfied when I find a new use for a thing.

Monday, January 12, 2015

For The Love of Woodstoves.

With learning how to do all this computer stuff, the cold wet weather and looking at all the great homesteading sites I've become alittle nostalgic. 3 years ago, due to certain circumstances, we actually moved away from our own little homestead to the edge of town. In the big picture it was a good decision, but it totally took me out of my niche. In the old house we had a "cute" little woodstove. This is a pic of Duchess, the rabbit, Lucy, the black and white and Gypsi, blue curr. It was a tiny stove but it was also a tiny house, we were ahead of our
Now it sits in the corner gathering dust.
Once upon a time it kept lil goats warm, a house comfy and I even cooked on it sometimes. When we first moved into the little house we got "gassed" (cheated) by the propane company that filled our tank, so I went on the search for a wood stove. New to the woodstove workings, I found this adorable stove in the trader. My Big Guy, while laughing at me, drove an hour to pick it up and brought it home. We set it up and never laughed again. (by the way you can find the instructions for this goat sweater at "Simpler Times" is used a lot to describe doing things the old fashioned way, but basic is the word I would use. It wasn't simpler, there was a lot more work involved. But you knew exactly where you were as you went.
 I miss that.

The Gift of Sauerkraut.

For my birthday I got a wonderful gift. As my family watched me open it, and laughed, I tried to keep on a "thank you , I love it" face. In reality, it more like "what in the 'world' is it".
A fermentation kit...of course! It's actually
pretty cool and right up my alley. I've made sauerkraut in crocks, (side note here, I recently read an article that said that if your crock had been used in the past for "glassing eggs" it will not work for kraut. The way to tell is if dry it has a white filmy look, wet, it goes away but comes back when it dries again.) but what if you don't want to start that much? What about kimchee, pickled eggs...there are a million ideas for fermented foods to be tried. This kit fits a wide mouth jar. A test quart is perfect for trying something you haven't tried before. I have some 1/2 and gallon jars that this will work great on, but for today I only had 1 head of cabbage. I have a couple tutorials pinned on my fermenting board on +Pinterest and I watched a video on +YouTube . I put what I thought was the best advice together.
You'll Need
1 head of cabbage, purple or green
1T canning salt
Shred the cabbage with a knife or in the food processor. Save back one f the outer leaves for later.

Mix your salt and cabbage
together in a large bowl and let sit for several hours. This gives the salt time to draw some of the moisture out and makes packing it into you jar much easier. Mine sat about 5hrs. because that's when I had time to get back to it.
When your ready place cabbage into the jar a handful at a time and pack it down. The handle of a wooden spoon works well.
As you pack it the moisture will start to come out. This is what you want, it's the brine that will need to cover the cabbage for it to ferment. Takes a little elbow grease but letting it sit with the salt makes this much easier. When your out of cabbage and have packed until the liquid is at least a half inch above the cabbage, it's time. If your family didn't realize what a great gift this contraption would be, no fear. Use the extra leaf that you set back to cover your kraut, a shot glass or something small like that can help keep it submerged. Place your flat and ring on and tighten "finger" tight, then loosen 1/2 turn. The fermentation process produces gasses that will need to be able to vent.
If you have one of these they come with the directions
The glass weight goes in on top of the cabbage, rubber gasket, flat with hole in it, ring. Then then cork and the water valve. Sunlight can kill the process so I laid a dish towel over it and set it in the corner of my counter. After a week or so you can start testing it and it's ready when it satisfies your taste. I'll let you know how this goes.
Day 5
Starting to get that kraut smell and taste. No scum to skim. Very excited about this tool.
You can find this single kit and several larger kits at I've also found several more great sites for recipes and pinned them on Pinterest.
Day 17
Still more salty than kraut but all seems well. Just read about the virtues of patience when it comes to fermentation. Not one of my stronger traits but worth the wait.
Day 29
I'm so excited! Kraut is ready to eat! Sure, it could go a little longer, but...
And I'm lucky enough to have a package of sausages from my moms butchered pigs in the freezer.
Top with some spicy mustard and....
Soon as I get done posting this I'm making another order. And starting another recipe!

Saturday, January 10, 2015


 Around our house we love meatballs! Simple, delicious, and versatile. A simple recipe that can be adjusted to fit a lot of rolls.
This makes about 30 meatballs
2lbs hamburger
1lb ground pork or breakfast sausage
1 med onion, diced
half package of crackers or about so much bread crumbs
2T steak sauce
2 eggs
1/3c milk
1/2t salt
1/2t pepper
If you don't have bread crumbs or crackers, take three or four slices of white bread and soak them in the milk before you add it. Squish it up good, it's only there to hold the moisture anyway. Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Roll into golf ball size and place onto a baking rack. I like to use the broiler pan from my stove. This lets the grease run off. Bake at 350' for 40min.
These can be served as is or, put a few at a time in a hot skillet and give them a roll around to brown the bottom and brown off the little bits of fat that is sticking. Makes them prettier for serving.
If your serving them with spaghetti, add 2T Italian seasoning to mixture, and/or serve on hoagie buns with marinara sauce or spaghetti sauce and some mozzarella cheese.
My husband likes the buns soft. Sometimes I make mine into garlic bread under the broiler.
You could add red pepper flakes instead of Italian seasoning and serve with BBQ sauce. Make them smaller and you can put them into a crockpot with BBQ and serve as a party snack.
Give them alittle smoosh before you cook and serve them in dinner rolls, slider style.
Add some five spice seasoning and serve with rice and sweet and sour sauce.
Switch the burger for ground chicken or turkey, add sage, and serve with potatoes and stuffing.
This  is also a great recipe to shape into patties and grill, or small loaves to wrap in foil and cook while camping.
Find a way that you like it and cook, then freeze any leftovers (if you have any). These are quick snacks for those starving kids that show up on your doorstep. lol 
Play with the recipe. It's a lot of fun.
 To test, take a small amount and fry up in a skillet. Taste and adjust.

Taquitos Tonight!

Friday night is our family dinner night, like the old fashioned Sunday dinner, it's when we have company. I use this night to test any new recipes or ideas for recipes that I have come up with throughout the week. Sometimes I try to get fancy, but last night I just felt like something fun. I have these recipes pinned under recipes to cook. Taquitos! Simple and fun to eat I intend to add this to my regular "party" food list.
3c pulled pork (I rubbed part of a butt roast with my dry rub (directions for rub on last post) and roasted it as 200' for about 4 hrs)
3oz cream cheese
12oz green salsa
1c cheddar cheese
This could all be done in a crockpot but, I had the mixture for the chicken in mine, so I simmered this on the stove til melted.
In the crockpot, on high, I cooked 5 chicken leg/thigh quarters (this is what I had, it could have been breast or any other) in about a cup of water. When they were done I strained, skinned and picked the chicken apart. Put the meat back into the crockpot with about 1c of the liquid (I skimmed the fat off).
8oz cream cheese
1/3c diced jalapenos
1t garlic powder
1t salt
1t cumin
Let this cook til melty.
I grabbed 2 packages of the 10in flour burrito shells, again that's what I had on hand, and then just rolled up. I used about 1/2c or so of the mixtures for each shell. Spray oil a cookie sheet and place the rolls seam side down. When you have the sheet full, spray the top of the rolls with more oil and bake at 425' for 10-15min or until slightly golden.
These turned out great and were so easy to make! You could use the smaller size shells or cut in half or thirds to serve for a  get together. I set out taco sauce, sour cream and sweet and sour sauce for dipping them in. Used up 20 shells and had just little pork left over.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Mixes you should make yourself.

For most of my recipes I couldn't tell you exactly what was in it if I wanted to. I'm more of a what's in the pantry, pinch of this, palmful of that, kinda cook. For these mixes though you really need a standard to start from so I am passing on the ones that I use from Amy Dacyczyns' book "The Tightwad Gazette". Having these mixes on hand are essential to the way I cook because I don't pick a meal and grocery shop for it, I go through my groceries and pick a meal. For these mixes I save up the seasoning shakers from the store or seal them in mason jars. This is a great way to use the older ones that you might be unsure of canning with due to age!

Seasoned Salt
8T salt, 3T pepper, 2T paprika, 1/2T onion powder and 1/2T garlic powder.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and store in an airtight container.

Taco-Seasoning Mix
6t chili powder, 4 1/2t cumin, 5t paprika,3t onion powder,2 1/2t garlic powder and 1/4t cayenne pepper. We use a lot of this so I usually triple the recipe. You can adjust the heat to whatever you prefer. This mix is actually twice as strong as the store bought kind, so I use about a tablespoon /lb. Adding 2T of Masa to this mix makes it richer and tastes even more like the store kind.

Cream Soup Mix
2c dry milk, 11/4c cornstarch (or 2 1/2c flour), 1/4c chicken bullion powder, 2T dried onion flakes, 1/2t pepper, (1t thyme and 1t basil, optional). Mix all ingredients. If the mix is made with cornstarch, add 1/3c mix to 1 1/4c water; if the mix is made with flour, add 1/2c mix to 1 1/4c water. This makes a concentrated consistency. For soup consistency double the water. Simmer until thick. Add mushroom=cream of mushroom, diced celery=cream of celery... I use this to thicken stews, add alittle to give broth a richness and if I make gravy too thin. Always mix into cool liquid first or cornstarch will clump.

Seasoned-Rice Mix (like rice a roni)
3c uncooked rice, 1/4c dried parsley, 6T chicken or beef bullion powder, 2t onion powder, 1/2t garlic powder, 1/4t dried thyme. Mix all ingredients. Cook just like rice: 1c rice, 2c water and 2T butter. Bring to boil, cover, reduce to simmer for 20 min.

These are from other recipe books.

Salt Free Herb Blend
(this great if your trying to reduce your salt use)
5t onion powder, 2 1/2t garlic powder, 2 1/2t paprika, 1 1/4t thyme, 1/2t pepper, 2 1/2t dry mustard.

BBQ Spice Rub
1c brown sugar, 1/4c paprika, 1T pepper, 1T salt, 1T chili powder, 1T onion powder,1t cayenne. This is a great rub for ribs, chops, chicken, etc. Liberally rub meat and place in fridge for an hour to overnight.

Lemon Pepper
Slice lemons as thin as possible. Dry either in a 200' oven until crisp or in a dehydrator. Pulverize in a food processor. Run through a sieve or strainer to get out any large chunks of rind that didn't break up. Add pepper. I do this because I don't like the amount of salt that is in the store brands.

These are all herbs and spices that I keep in my pantry all the time. Buying in bulk reduces the cost of these mixes even more. The best part is that you have control over the amount of salt, heat, and can adjust any part of it that you want. If it's something that you use a lot of, you also get the benefit of saving money and if you have the ingredients anyway, you can never look in the cabinet and be frustrated because your out of it. The ones that I use a lot of I double or triple the recipe.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

It's not vegatables, it's soup!

The only good thing that I can think of about winter weather is soup. Chili, stew and anything with dumplings, of course. Tuesday night I made a big pot of vegetable soup. Every odd and end out of the fridge goes in, plus some of the stuff that I canned during the summer. I love making it this way because it never turns out the same, but I've never been disappointed.
Salt, pepper and a little thyme are the only things that I always add. This makes a wonderful hot meal, for the first night... On the second day I puree all that is left. (minus a Tupperware bowl just for me) I take out about a quart and add garlic powder, basil, more thyme and oregano. Tada, spaghetti sauce.
And on the third day,
I canned all the rest. I ended up with 6 quarts. If you use this idea follow whatever canning guide you like. I use the Ball Canning Guide. Whenever I make something that I don't have a specific recipe for I can it by the specifications of whatever is in it that has to can the longest. In this case I had corn so I went with 1hr@10lbs. for quarts.

I label this as basic red sauce. This way I know what it is, but the kids don't know. I have a few that are veggie picky. Once I puree it they will eat almost anything! When I use it I either add spaghetti herbs, taco or chili seasoning, or it is great eaten as is, like a gazpacho. It also freezes really well.
In case of emergency, add vodka! lol

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I Think I Need A Pintervention!

Due to technical difficulties (user error) I seem to have goofed some of my pictures right off of Google+. Don't know what I did or how I did it! Guess  I need to find a pin about how to use the computer..for dummies. Anyway 10 in 10 days may have been alittle  too ambitious during this hectic time of year. I concede for now but will try again. I do want to update my post on the veggies that regrow.
My celery didn't fair so well. I think it had been in the fridge for alittle too long. It sorta tried but hasn't made much progress. The scallions on the other hand are going great, as you can see ( I hope). I killed some thyme, no really, my thyme plant got forgotten over the holidays and died, so it's sacrifice became a new home for the scallions.
The weather has really turned off cold here so I think I will make vegetable soup tonight and try out more regrows.