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Archive for November, 2009

If you want to approach self-sufficiency in today’s global world, it’s important to save seeds.  It’s also important, though, to recognize and appreciate the plants that keep on giving.  Tonight we enjoyed a veggie and an herb that planted themselves:  tomatillo and cilantro.  I suppose had I been more picky about “weeding” things I had not planted, we would not have had this meal tonight.

Tomatillo are tart, green goodness encased in an inedible husk.  I planted some in my garden three years ago.  A few got caught by frost then, dropped their seed, and voila!, I’ve had them for free ever since.  This year I picked the last of my free tomatillos right before our deep freeze, but a few fruits that had already dropped will form the backbone of next year’s tomatillos.

Earlier this year my husband planted a single cilantro plant. As soon as it got hot, the plant went to seed.  It dropped some seed where it had been planted, but then he ripped out the plant and tossed it in an area where we’re building up compost and leaves for future expansion.  Now, thanks to rain and cooler temperatures, we have dozens of cilantro plants.  A little leaf covering during our deep freeze a few nights ago gave them plenty of protection.

Together, the cilantro and tomatillos joined with leftover turkey and some remaining chiles in green-chile turkey enchiladas.  Not only was much of our meal home grown, but a big portion of it was free!

I’ll post more soon about seed saving and plants that readily reproduce with little or no help from the gardener.

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I enjoy sharing gifts from our garden for the holidays.  I always make lots of extra jars of pickles and, when we have a good apple harvest, apple butter.  I share our garden bounty as hostess gifts for holiday parties. At this point in the year, though, with summer veggie season over, if you didn’t can pickles, you really can’t start now.  Store-bought cucumbers now will be the wrong variety for pickling, plus they’re coated with wax, which will keep the pickling brine from penetrating, no matter how hard you try to scrub it off.  Instead, look to apples and peppers for gifts from the garden.

If you had a big apple harvest, you can still make apple butter.  Apple butter is a luscious version of apple sauce, full of spices and cooked down into a decadent caramel flavor.  Let me know if you’re interested in a recipe.

If you did well with hot peppers and froze or dried some successfully, you can still make pepper jelly,  Pepper jelly is absolutely wonderful served on crackers or toast with cream cheese.  You control the heat by your choice and quantity of peppers. I make mine with cranberry juice, so it’s got a ruby-jewel color that’s perfect for the holidays.  I’ll be happy to share a recipe.  Just ask!

What gifts from the garden do you give?  Chow-chow?  Strawberry jam?  Pie filling?  Do tell!

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It’s really rare here to make it to Thanksgiving day without a half dozen hard freezes, but this year we’d only had a couple of frosts up to November 26.  Hence, when I saw the outdoor temperature plummeting to 36 degrees Fahrenheit before 6:00 p.m., I was resigned to the inevitable.  Thankful for our turkey feast and donning an LED headlamp, I headed outside to find the two last Japanese eggplants that I had hoped would get a little bigger.  I found them by lifting the branches on the plants, feeling for the extra weight, since the headlamp provided little help on the dark purple-ebony skin of the veggies.  I added these last eggplants to a basket of last red peter peppers I’d picked earlier and then set about my primary task in preparing for the freeze.

I have three surprise summer squash plants with baby squash on them.  I could not resist trying to save them.  I covered them with an old dropcloth and a trash bag.  We have at least a dozen volunteer cilantro plants.  Over them I raked leaves.  Next came the big garden, where I checked that plastic I had laid out a few nights ago was still in place and adjusted its fit.  I made sure that my veggie tunnels were in place too.  Finally, I put the glass tops back on my homemade cold frames.  My plants were put to bed for a cold night.

I dreamed that it got down to 21 degrees F.  I also dreamed that I had not protected my herbs.  The first, thank goodness, was just a dream, because I really had forgotten to cover the herbs next to the house.  No problem; the proximity protected most of them this one night, despite the 26 degree F temperature.  And my protective measures took care of the rest.  Today I pulled half a dozen radishes from my cold frame.  I present these blessings of winter together with the blessings of summer.  (Yes, those long hot pink things are radishes, not carrots!)

Do you keep your gardening growing in the winter?  I’d love to hear about it!  Do you have questions about winter gardening?  I’ll try to answer them.  It gets down below zero degrees Fahrenheit here, but we still keep things growing, all without the addition of heat.  It’s a truly sustainable form of winter gardening that will work for a big swath of the world.

Copyright 2009 Ozarkhomesteader.  Please contact me about permission to use photographs.  Short excerpts of text with a full link to this site are welcome.

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Copyright Ozarkhomesteader 2009.  Excerpts fall within fair use, as do links.  Reprinting the whole thing doesn’t.

One of the most common complaints I hear about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is that you don’t get to choose what you get every month.  Most CSAs allow you to pre-purchase a monthly pick-up, but growers determine exactly what is in your basket.  We love trying new things, so our complaint isn’t with the mystery of the basket.  It’s with the duplication from our own garden, since we grow so much of our own food.

Thus I was drawn to a variation on CSAs, locally grown networks.  Local Harvest is one such network that connects farms to consumers.  Our area favorite that has regular pick-up points in central locations is Locally Grown.  We use Conway Locally Grown for things we don’t raise ourselves, and we only order when we need to (which isn’t very often all all).  Conway Locally Grown opens web ordering every Sunday night during season (less often in the winter).  You have until Tuesday to place your order.  Then you can pick up at a pre-determined location in Conway on Friday late afternoon and early evening.  The  Conway market is in a local doctor’s office.  It is truly a happy, cheerful place.We were picking up our turkey from Falling Sky Farm last week  (more on Falling Sky Farm in future posts!) at the Conway Locally Grown pick-up site, so I ordered a few things we didn’t have in the garden now:  shitake mushrooms, bok choy, beautiful carrots, some Japanese turnips (great fresh or cooked!), and a real splurge, a scone sampler that someone else made!If you can’t grow enough to feed yourself, please consider supporting a local, sustainable grower through a CSA or a market like Locally Grown.

Do you have a favorite local online market?

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Homemade gravy is one of those joys of life.  True, the turkey, dressing (stuffing with cornbread made in a pan, for the Yankee readers), vegetables, and pies bring a wonderful scent and flavor of home and family, but the gravy ties everything together.  Okay, I don’t use gravy on pie, but a little gravy may hit everything else on my plate for a holiday feast! As good as gravy is to eat, some folks have a hard time making it.  I’m going to give a recipe today for basic gravy that you can start with broth from the turkey neck bone and then expand with pan drippings.

When you prep your bird for brining, remove the turkey neck (it’ll be long, skinny and bony) and the heart, liver, lungs, etc.  If you wonder whether or not to brine, read here.  I have two cats that love turkey innards, and since they deserve a happy holiday too, I cook the innards separately for them.  I may address giblet gravy in a future post nonetheless. To make starter broth, boil the turkey neck, broken into a couple of pieces with a stalk of celery (cut into chunks), about half an onion, and a carrot, with enough water to cover.  I’ll also add fresh herbs from the garden, including a 6-inch piece of rosemary and a few sage leaves.  You could add a teaspoon or so each of dried sage and rosemary if you are not growing them fresh in your garden. Rosemary and sage are perennials where I live, if you give them a little help.  I cover them for a few months when it gets really cold, but just south of here I know of people who leave them exposed all winter and never lose them. Simmer the turkey neck and veggies and herbs for about an hour.  You’ll notice that this is a light broth, with very little fat.  You want it that way now, since you’ll be adding pan drippings later.  After that hour (or so), strain off the broth; that’s the base of your gravy.  Toss the veggies and herbs in your compost–they’ve done their job–or if you are really frugal you could save them for soup later.  Reserve the neck.  After the neck cools, you can pick off the meat.  It is full of good turkey flavor, making it perfect for turkey soup.  The remaining broth is a wonderful, protein-rich stock.  If you were to refrigerate now (which you could!), it would separate into a tiny line of fat on top with a jelly-like, fat-free aspic on the bottom.  The gelatin is protein.

Now the boiler where you were making the broth is empty but may still have some good stuff stuck inside, so let’s use it for phase two.  Begin by putting about 2 tablespoons of flour in the bottom, and then whisk in just enough broth to wet all of the flour.  Now add a little more broth until you have a smooth, thin paste.  Keep adding broth until it is all incorporated.  Now simmer the gravy base for at least 15 minutes, until the gravy base stops tasting like wallpaper paste.  No, it won’t taste good yet–we’ve added absolutely no salt yet–but it should be starting to look and smell like gravy.  Now turn off the heat and walk away.  If you’ve done this step well before when you’ll be serving the bird, refrigerate your gravy base.

When the turkey comes out of the oven (thirty to forty-five minutes before you want to serve it, since you need to let it rest to retain its juiciness), pour off as many pan juices as you can easily reach.  You can put the drippings in the freezer to speed its solidifying if you want to skim off the fat.  That said, it’s a holiday; just eat it!  Now start adding your pan drippings to the gravy base you made earlier, stirring as you add.  If you used salt in a brine or in other bird preparation, your pan drippings will give up some of that salt to your gravy.  Simmer the gravy to incorporate the pan drippings.  As you get the bird out of the pan, use a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or white wine to de-glaze your pan and get the fons (those wonderful brown bits!).  Incorporate the de-glazing mix in the gravy.  Taste the gravy.  How is it?  Does it need a little salt or pepper?  That’s easy!  Does it need something else?  See below for easy fixes to common problems.

Not enough gravy for your big family? If you are thinking of what you’ll need for days to come, don’t worry.  Just use your turkey carcass to make more broth after you disassemble the turkey.  It’ll have that great pan flavor with no additions.  Just follow the steps for above for making the broth and adding the flour.  If you need more gravy now, though, you can use a commercial chicken broth mixed with flour (see above) and simmered with rosemary to get a quick addition.  Follow the steps below to doctor the results.

Pan drippings didn’t give enough flavor? Consider adding apple cider vinegar, white port, or sherry, one tablespoon at a time.  Consider adding quality soy sauce (umami!) a couple of quick dashes (shakes) at a time.  It’ll solve both the flavor and the color problem.

Does your gravy look pale? This problem can happen especially if you’ve had to use commercial chicken broth to add to your home-created turkey broth. Take a trick from Southern red-eye gravy and add a few grains of instant coffee (won’t affect thickness) or a teaspoon or so (add very carefully!) of brewed coffee.  Your gravy will take on a warm color and flavor.

Is your gravy too thin? Remember that gravy will thicken a little as it cools.  (See the protein-gelatin note above.)  If you think it won’t thicken enough, you can add more thickener now, but you need to be really careful about what you add.  The easiest thing to add to hot gravy to make it thicken without lumping is potato flour (not potato starch).  Sprinkle about a tablespoon of potato flour on the top of your gravy.  Whisk for a couple of minutes, and it will disappear like magic.  If you don’t have potato flour but have already fixed boiled potatoes, you can take half a medium red potato (no skin) and mash it into the gravy.  Start by mashing the potato half in a small bowl and then add gravy a little at a time to make it thinner and smooth.  Once it’s thinned down quite a bit, add the mixture into the gravy.  If you’ve made traditional mashed potatoes without anything funky added, you could do the same thing with it. Whatever you do, do not add wheat flour or corn starch to hot gravy.  You’ll make dumplings of wallpaper paste.

Lumpy gravy? This happens to everyone at some time.  If you have an immersion blender (a long stick that will go straight into the pot), pull it out and blend those lumps away.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a regular blender.  Just be very careful!  Hot liquids tend to sort of explode in the blender, so start by spooning just the lumps in the blender and then adding just enough liquid to blend.  No blender or food processor of any kind?  Strain the gravy as your pour it into your gravy boat.

Do you have a gravy problem I haven’t mentioned here?  questions?  Feel free to post!


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My turkey brine is quick and easy.  I just put it together in a few minutes, and you can too.  Start by putting 1 cup of salt without anti-caking agents added, like canning salt, in a medium-sized pot.  Add 1/2 cup (or a little more) of honey, brown sugar, or molasses.  Use what you have! Add enough water to come about half way up the side of the pan, completely covering the salt and honey.  Bring the pot to a boil.  While the pot gets hot, assemble the rest of your ingredients.  Put 2 tablespoons each peppercorns (mixed or all black) and 2 tablespoons whole allspice berries together to be crushed.  You can crush them in a chopper, with the side of a heavy knife blade, with a cast iron pan, or with a mortar and pestle.  As the salt-honey-water mixture comes to a boil, drop in the sort-of crushed peppercorns and allspice berries.  Now add 2 tablespoons juniper berries.  Juniper berries add a wild flavor to farm-raised turkey.  Has the pot boiled yet?  Let it boil for a minute or two and then turn off the heat.  Add a heaping tablespoon of celery seed and some chopped garlic or dried garlic.  (I had some dried garlic that I wanted to get rid of, so I put that in.) Now put a lid on that pot and walk away until it cools down.  In a few hours, I’ll add at least one cup of cider vinegar.  Sometimes I’ll add a sweetish wine too, like white port.  I also will put in handfuls of fresh herbs:  rosemary, sage, and thyme.  I have a canning pot that is large enough to hold the 18-pound turkey I’ve been thawing over several days.  I’ll put the turkey in the canning pot and alternate adding my brine mixture with water until the turkey is completely covered.  You can use a very large ziplock bag if you do not have a pot big enough to hold your turkey.  Refrigerate the turkey until you are ready to roast it, preferably giving the brine time to work overnight.

  • 1 cup canning salt (Kosher or sea salt are okay too but more expensive; do not use standard table salt)
  • 1/2 + cup honey, molasses, or brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons peppercorns (mixed or all black)
  • 2 Tablespoons allspice berries
  • 2 Tablespoons juniper berries
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon celery seed
  • 1 scant Tablespoon garlic (dried okay)
  • 1 cup (or more) real apple cider vinegar
  • optional:  1 cup white port (homemade wine is really good for this purpose)

What special ingredients do you add to your brine?  Please share!

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Of all of the things that my Georgia grandmother did well, roast turkey was not one of them.  Every winter holiday she produced a beautiful roast turkey, but then she’d take it out of the oven, carve it, and put it back in, uncovered.  Thus I came to really love gravy.  You can mess up a good turkey in lots of ways, and letting it bake, uncovered, a second time after you’ve carved it is one of them.  You can also buy a bad turkey.

The best turkeys are those that are butchered naturally, with no “retained liquid.”  If you’ve read the fine print, you know that grocery store turkeys can contain “up to 14% of retained liquid,” although I’ve found some with as little as 6%.  That “retained liquid” is a combination of water and chemicals, and you’re paying for it by the pound.  That’s not my idea of a good deal.

Instead, I get a turkey that is butchered the old-fashioned way (look for products that are organic or local to find a naturally butchered turkey), and then I brine it myself.  Brine is a salt-vinegar-spice-herb solution in which you soak the turkey for several hours.  The combination of liquid and salt helps the turkey absorb and retain the good liquid.  Brine keeps your meat juicy and succulent instead of dry, and it can add great flavor.

Alton Brown is one of my favorite TV chefs.  Here is one of his brine recipes.  Here is my brine recipe.  I use vinegar and/or wine, and I use more fresh veggies to avoid coming up with a gallon of veggie stock.

Could you use a great brine recipe on a grocery-store turkey?  Yes, but you’ll be wasting more money.  Your commercial turkey is already plumped up with liquid and chemicals, and it will not be able to draw in your good herbie-spicy brine.

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