Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Must Have My Cast Iron!

I've been cooking with cast iron since I was big enough to stand in chair beside my mom at the stove. This is my newest edition, a great waffle maker. Pour in your batter and close, cook a while, then it swivels on a ball hinge to cook the other side. 
                                                          How  cool!
I got it a few weeks before I started blogging so I didn't think to take pictures, but it was rusted and cruddy. The person who had it before didn't know what they had and/or how to care for it. $8! The lady I bought it from said "That might make a cute decoration but I doubt it's usable". I told her it was fine for what I wanted and walked out grinning like the cheshire cat. 
There are so many myths and misunderstanding about cast iron I could write pages just on what not to believe. If your learning to cook or learning to camp or learning to homestead, I think a few iron skillets and pots should be at the top of your list of must haves. Quick count here is about 45 of different styles, sizes and shapes. I know, can anyone say "obsession"...I like the old ones best myself but don't throw out those new ones if that's how you roll. 
There are a lot of theories about how to clean up the ones that are rusted or cruddy. Some say soak in a mix of vinegar and water, wash, then soak in baking soda (to neutralize the vinegar) and water. Then season. Some scour with salt and oil. These are worth looking up if your new and just want the info. But I have never had to use those methods. 
For cruddy rusted flea market finds.
Check for cracks. These are DOA and should not be used because they can split the rest of the way.
Step 1: Grab one of those metal scouring pads. Steel wool is fine but I don't usually use the ones with soap in them unless you have the sticky oil film that just won't come off. Scrub with dish soap and hot water. Rinse.
Step 2: Heat your pan to dry. I like to do this outside on a grill or over a fire pit because your going to want it to smoke when you add the oil. Let it get HOT. Hold your hand about 1 inch from the bottom surface of the pan, should take about 2 seconds to make you pull your hand away. CAREFULLY set the pan away from the heat source. If you have lard (or bacon grease) I recommend that, if not then crisco or vegetable oil work fine. Add about 2 tablespoons. Use a pair of tongs or pliers and a rag to spread the oil all around the inside of the pan, it should smoke. Give it min and then spread any that has collected again, turn it over and do the same on the outside. Repeat heating it to smoking point and oil again. Let cool.
You can use the oven @450* or stove top but make sure to turn on a fan and/or open a window.
The idea behind this is that the heat expands the metal and then the oil is trapped as it cools creating the slick seasoned surface.
Your pan is now ready to cook with. The more you use it the better the seasoning will get and the more non stick your pan will be. It takes a little while to get one really slick.
I have read articles that say do not use metal utensils on your iron. This is wrong. They mention them "scraping off" the seasoning layer. Best I can figure what they are actually getting is some burnt on crud that they didn't remove well because they tried to clean it with a soft sponge. 
Cleaning your cast iron after cooking with it.

Depends on what you cooked. If I scramble eggs (and the skillet was well seasoned) I just wipe it out with a rag or paper towel.
        I went ahead and rinsed this one after the pic. but this is how it looked just wiped with the towel.                                                             

Gravy, hot water and a good scrub.

Fried potatoes, water and a little soap, I like to burn my onions a little.

If you really burn something into you pan don't worry. It happens. Heat with enough water to cover burnt stuff to a boil for 5 min. Turn off heat and let soak till cool. Scrub with a little soap.
All iron pans should be dried as soon as washed. 
Set washed pan on stove over med heat. Let dry. Add small amount of oil, this depends on how big your pan is, and spread it around. Let cool. If they look a little chalky you may want to repeat and/or use it more. :)

The more you use them the better they get. I like to use any new additions to fry chicken, bacon anything that creates a lot of grease. This gives it time to soak in.
Country Fried Chicken:
Pound chicken breast to about 1/2 inch thick
Heat 1/2 to 1 inch oil in skillet to about 350'. A drop of water should sizzle when it's ready.
Dredge chicken in flour. salt and pepper mix.
Gently place chicken in oil.

5-7min on each side, or til golden.
Drain off most of chicken grease and make gravy. 
Heat dinner rolls in iron pan in oven, set aside and heat broccoli. 

Don't be afraid of tomatoes. I make spaghetti sauce in mine all the time. You do want to wash them soon after because the acid from the tomato will cause rusty spots if you let it sit.
I don't usualy boil water in mine. Mostly because boiling seems to always involve a white starch and the iron in the pan will give a slightly dingy color. (noodles, rice, potatoes) But I always cook my dried beans in them.
The saying that they heat especially even is and isn't true. Like any pan the spot where the heat is actually in contact with the pan will be hotter. But the entire pan is conducting the heat so it is 'more' even. If you use it over an indirect fire or in an oven then it is true. The whole pan heats and holds the heat. I wouldn't use anything else to make cornbread or pineapple-upside down-cake.
That's the final point. Cast iron is great on the kitchen stove, in the oven, on the grill, over a fire. You would really have to get carried away to hurt it.
 And in case of emergency, cast iron has been a recommended attitude adjuster for years...

Monday, February 23, 2015

When life gives you lemons, share!

I was lucky enough to have a friend send me some lemons. There's so many things I want to do with them but decided to start with making Lemon Pepper. This is one of my favorite seasoning in the summer. On veggies, chicken, fish...even just sprinkled  over salad.

I sliced six of my precious lemons into fairly thin slices, picked most of the seeds out to set aside for trying to plant, and put them in the dehydrator. This can also be done in the oven. Set the oven to it's lowest setting and in both cases dry until crisp rotating occasionally to get even dryness. The amount of time this takes will depend on your method and settings, and on how thinly you slice them. Just keep an eye on 'em.
 (I've never bothered trying to plant the seeds before because all I can get around here are the ones from the stores. Hope to be able to show my great success with those later.) 
As your lemons dry take them out and let them cool. These can be stored in any covered contained until your ready to grind them or put directly into a food processor or grinder. I pulse them for 30-40 seconds and then sift them through a wide mesh strainer.

Repeat this a time or two pulsing only the larger bits. When you get down to the bits that won't break down anymore, mix your lemon flakes with course ground black pepper. We really like the taste of 3/4 lemon and 1/4 pepper. You can add salt now if you like. I don't. I add the salt directly to whatever I'm cooking.
The extra hard bits can be saved separately and used in hot tea or marinades. Since it has the pith it can have bit of a bitter taste.
Store your lemon pepper in a sealed container. I refill a shaker that I reused from the store and put any extra in glass jar. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Let it snow!

If you love snow, I forgive you.

I'm not a fan of the stuff. Woke up this morning to it anyway. My family knows how I feel about the use of the 'S' words in my home.
     As much as I hate to admit it, the reality is that snow is good. If you live in an area where your snow lasts through the winter it becomes a great insulator for the roots of your perennial plants. A lot of damage is done when temperature switch drastically from warm to cold to warm. The plants are confused and can try to come out too soon. The air spaces in the snow are part if it insulation property, so try not to walk on it where you have plants that you are wanting protected. Compacting the snow reduces this quality. 
     Also the freezing and thawing can cause the ground to heave and push the root systems too close to the top and then another freezing can kill them off. This is why mulching is so important, it also helps to prevent the sudden changes in ground temp. 
     As snow melts it deposits small amounts of Nitrogen into the soil, not a lot but every little bit of natural help is good. If you mulched your plants in the fall the slow melt of the snow can be absorbed into the soil and held for much longer than in barren ground. If you live in an area where water is not naturally available in the summer months, having any that can be stored for later is a benefit. Having rain barrels or tanks set up to collect the melt off of roofs is an easy starter project. Or if you got more adventurous last year and built burms and swales the snow melt can collect in these areas. (This is an idea that I plan to use this summer. I've just begun to learn about it through the  
     The other side of this is that if your planning to reseed your lawn in the spring, do it now. The heaving of exposed yard will plant the seeds for you.
     Watch your bushes and trees when it snows heavily. The weight of the snow can damage the branches. Evergreen bushes that collect a lot of snow can be broken and bent out of shape. Wrapping the bush with string or wire can help to protect it, also gently brushing the snow off with a broom. For the most part try not to mess with ice. Ice also works as an insulator and trying to break it off the plant can do more damage than good.
With all of that said, I'm going to grab my seed catalog, some coffee and my blankie and curl up on the couch until it goes away. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentines Day!


Every year for 14 years my husband has brought me a card and flowers (sometimes more). You might think that this is the usual and not note worthy, but I disagree. Every year he goes to the flower shop and picks out my flowers himself. Wild flowers. What they have that he thinks represents me. He does let the girls put it together to be pretty, but hey... This is special to us because the first flowers he ever brought me he picked from the side of the road, and he's continued to do it all this time. In a world where divorce and all are common place it needs to be celebrated when you have something special. I'll be the first to admit that I'm spoiled! He had grown up on a farm, slop the pigs, chop the wood, etc. He swore he would never live that way again. Then he met me (or I met him). LOL. 
I say spoiled in a good way. 
What I want I get...I want a hole in the middle of the yard so I can experiment with water plants.
I want help unloading mulch that I got from a neighbor.
I want this space fenced in.
I want this tree cut down.
I need and don't have to ask...Canned tomatoes all day, he get's home from work and does the dishes to catch me up.
Need something to continue a sewing project, he'll get it so I don't have to stop.
Need a board, need a bale, need a sack of nails....
When we lived at the little house there was seldom a weekend that I didn't come home with a (or a few) new pets. When we moved we had goats sheep horses dogs ducks a llama 'bout 60 rabbits ( my daughter showed 4H so she's partly to blame) geese garden (yes he dug some of it up and moved it with us) and my flowers.
I'm a complete child when it comes to a lot of things. He doesn't mind and is even my enabler. 
This may seem like an odd blog but I couldn't even be blogging if it wasn't for him. He believes in me and believes I should share what I love.
So, I decided to share what I love most.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mix And Match Muffins #Recipes #Muffins #TightwadGazette #Tsu

This is my favorite muffin recipe. Thing is, it isn't exactly A recipe. It's a guideline to make almost anything you have in your fridge or cabinet into a muffin. These are two examples. Raisin-applesauce, and chicken, rice and cheese. I'll give you these recipes and then explain how they are from the same starter.

Raisin Applesauce
In mixing bowl add
1c oatmeal (dry quick oats or cooked regular rolled oats)
1 1/2c flour 
2t baking powder
1/2t salt 
1t cinnamon
1/4t nutmeg
Give this a good stir.Then add
1c milk
1/4c peanut butter or cooking oil
1 egg
3/4c brown sugar or white
1c applesauce 
1/4c raisins (optional)
Everything goes into one mixing bowl. Stir well. It will be a slightly lumpy medium thick batter.
This will make about 12 regular size muffins. Oil muffin tins. You can use the papers but, these freeze really well and I find that after frozen the paper is hard to get off. Fill just below full.
Bake at 400' for 20 minutes. Let cool slightly and serve or let cool completely and freeze. Thaw in fridge.

Cheesy Rice and Chicken
1 1/2c flour
2t baking powder
1c left over cooked rice
2T chopped green onion
 1c milk
1 egg
1/4c vegetable oil
Stir these together then add
1c cooked, diced chicken or
1/2c chicken and 1/2c chopped broccoli
1c shredded cheddar cheese
1t salt
1/2t pepper
1/2t taragon (optional)
Mix well fill muffin tin, sprinkle a little extra cheese on top of batter if you like, and bake the same as above.
These are great as is, or like the picture at the top, I love them with a dollop of salsa on top.

Now here's the part. These are the same basic recipe! Really!
If you cook like I do, from my pantry, sometimes you run out of stuff. You can't always run to the store for 1 item. 
If you have a pie plate or muffin tins you can make something for breakfast, a snack, use up leftovers, send something to warm up and eat with someone going get it.
Place a few in a plastic baggie and they can be warmed on the defrost vent in the dash of a vehicle. Wrap in foil and they can be warmed on any hot surface, motor, hood of truck...
Here's the secret mixture.
2 to 2 1/2 cups grain- at least 1c white flour, then you can mix with up to 1 1/2 c oatmeal, corn meal,                                       whole wheat, rye,cooked rice (white/brown) left over mashed potato or even                                         flake cereal.
1c milk- this can be butter milk, mixed dry milk or replace part with fruit juice
up to 1/4c fat- veggetable oil, 4T melted butter, peanut butter, yogurt, sour cream
1 egg- or 1 heaping T soy flour and 1T water
up to 1/2c sweetener- brown sugar, white sugar, honey, molasses...
2t baking powder (unless you use self-rising flour, then omit) If you use butter milk decrease to 1t                                    and add 1/2t baking soda
1/2t salt- this can be omitted if you choose
up to 1 1/2c additions-nuts, dried fruit, seeds, shredded zucchini, shredded carrot, strawberries,                                               apples, pumpkin puree, sweet potato, diced chicken, shredded cheese, broccoli
For savory muffins omit sweetener 

For special treat fill cups half full of batter and add 1t jam, top with 2T batter.
Add spices that fit your additions. Pumpkin pie spice with pumpkin, vanilla with strawberries, play with it. 

A few of the additions we like:
lemon juice, zest
cornmeal, leftover taco meat, black beans and a little cumin
strawberries, bananas and top batter with brown sugar cinnamon mixture
jalapeno and cheese with cornmeal and diced tomato
chocolate chips
peaches and condensed milk with cinnamon

Monday, February 2, 2015

Planning Your Annual Vegetable Garden

Now that you've planned the perennial part of your garden it's time to move on to annuals. If you don't already have a way to track your garden, this is a great time to start. I've been thinking about this blog for a while now but couldn't put together a good way to share the idea. The multiple notebook page style that I have always used works fine, but it took me a year or two to get coordinated in a way that was easy to track. Luckily, it finally came to me, via facebook. has a great 5 year garden planner that you can download and print. It's simple design makes it perfect for multipurposing in the way that I want to share with you.
Planning your garden is important. Then loving to be in it becomes more important. This isn't the best picture, and it looks more like a jungle, but it's the way I like it. Barefoot wading through the vines and plants.
Yes A garden you love to wade in does produce.

When you start planning which veggies will make it into your garden think first about what your family eats the most. If the hubby loves potatoes with every meal than you might want to consider adding a large patch. If your the only one that will eat beets then a small planting might be the best use of space. Next thing to consider is, are you planning on canning or otherwise preserving from your garden? If not then a few plants that are really well cared for will give you that summer freshness without the waste of time, energy and money and the shame of throwing out the wasted abundance of your efforts.

Now we get to the fun part (in my opinion) and where the garden planner becomes one of my new favorite tools.

I plan my garden to feed my family. Canning, dehydrating, freezing..... Then subtract the things that can be bought in bulk for a price that is more reasonable than planting. Dry beans, for instance, are super cheap and already preserved for you. By the time I planted, cared for and prepared them for storage I would have put far more into it than it's worth to me.

My list might start something like this.
15 lg tomato plants
8 paste tomato
3 cherry tomato

I plant different varieties of each because I love the choices of colors, textures and flavors. This is where it's important to keep track of what you planted and where you got it. If you plant (specific) variety of cherry tomato and it doesn't produce in a way that suits your needs, you don't want to plant it again next year by accident. On the other hand if it does well, especially in bad weather, you want to be able to find it again. Take a moment here to find a list of good companion planting. There are some very useful things to be learned about what works well with what, such as tomato worms actually like dill better. If you plant plenty of dill in you garden some for use and some sacrificial to the worms you win twice. The worms are easier to find on the dill.

So now my seed list looks like this.
German Pink 1pkg. (catalog or store where they came from)
Green Zebra 1 pkg. (catalog.......)

If February is when you start seeds indoors, or out, use the Feb page in the same way. List how many of what variety you started. If you write small enough you will have room later to record what your success rate was for each. If you tend to write to large, like me, you can easily print multiples of this page. You continue this process throughout the year. When did you plant them in the garden, how did they perform for you and even if there was an unusual weather event that might make you like/dislike the plant variety. (example. cold wet weather on (date) one variety did especially well/hot dry weather on (date) one did especially poorly. Next year when you start breaking out the seed catalogs you can just look back in your journal and see what you want to make sure to/not to order again.

If your putting your produce up for storage you can add this to the planner. Print extra copies of these months. Use them to keep a running tally of how much you put aside.

At the end of the printable are also some sheets of graph paper. Use these to plot what and where you planted .

Finally to bring the whole thing into a circle.

In the end, you have a great record of your last year. When January rolls back around, the holidays are over and your looking forward to the spring season, break out your folder and put it all together. On a fresh January page total up how much of what you ended up having for storage, check this against what you have left. If you used up your tomato juice before you even got to christmas then plant/can more. If your cucumbers did really well and you pickled your heart out but the family doesn't eat pickles, maybe plant less or find a different way to use them. Don't forget to make notes of things that are available to you during certain months, peaches, wild blackberries, anything that you don't produce yourself but can forage for or pick up at a farmers market.

If this is your first time planting a garden, start smaller, don't get discouraged and most of all have fun with it. If your reading this then you probably have access to the wonderful world of web. A few suggestions for reading, whether your a new comer or an old hack, are Lasagna Gardening, Square Foot Gardening, Raised Beds.
If you read this far than I will take a moment to apologize for my clumsiness with my posting. I'm just learning how to work with all this social media stuff. I hope to be able to share enough useful information to those who are starting out on a project that they will ride along as I'm starting out on mine.