Saturday, February 22, 2014

Garden Update and DIY-Time! Build Your Own Recirculating Hydroponic Planter! (2014 Garden Experiment)

First up, Happy National Margarita Day!!!  I trust you are all celebrating in an appropriate manner!

If you've been following me for any length of time, you *know* I like to try new things!  I've done several "Garden Experiments" over the years.  Last year's "Experiment" turned out to be a real success (unlike previous years.  Ahem, Straw-Bale Bed FAIL!).

Last year's Experiment was trying out these self-watering Grow-Box Gizmos.  There's a tiny bit of assembly required, but they do come with sheets of "mulch" (looks like spun coconut fibers or something) and pre-loaded with fertilizer (which is attached to the backside of the mulch).

I purchased three of them and placed them on the (blazing hot) patio - expecting to "pre-cook" my veggies, but I was pleasantly surprised to get some bona-fide harvests out of 'em! (Sadly, last year was a very slow Blogging year, so I didn't provide updates - my bad!).  Anyway, I harvested quite a few ears of corn, a small handful of beans (nothing noteworthy), plenty of zucchinis, and I got several Marina di Chioggia squashes.  The plants absolutely THRIVED (to my amazement).  Not at all difficult to keep watered, either.  The only downside was the plants proximity to our voracious weenie dogs!

I re-used two of them for cool-season veggies this winter.  I dumped the old soil into my raised beds and started with fresh.  I also re-used the "mulch" sheet that was included with them, but substituted my own organic fertilizers (although I'm pleased to see that Grow-Box now offers an organic fertilizer option - at least on the replacement mulch pads).

Over winter, I put an x-pen around the planters to keep the dogs from stealing my harvest!

See why I need to cage them?!

I am very pleased with these planters and highly recommend them.  I got a very nice harvest of broccoli and cauliflower but, unfortunately, the cabbage-worms got hold of my cabbages - AGAIN!

Oh, and there's a celery plant in there, too (just can't see it because the kohl crops are so happy and tall and bushy!)

Okay, so in a week or three, I'll be dumping the soil and starting over again.  This summer, I'll plant 'maters in the Grow-Boxes.  2 plants per box, so that allows for 6 'mater plants (Do you have any idea how difficult it was for me to narrow-down my choices to only 6 varieties of tomato?!).  

Anyhooo... Let's move on to the Great Garden Experiment of 2014, shall we?

I have a couple of potted citrus trees.  A Bearss Lime (with spikes that will KILL you!), and a Mandarin.  The Mandarin is doing surprisingly well, but I can't get my lime to thrive - no matter what I do!  I moved it to a ginormous pot last year, and it still looks all yellow and sickly (of course, our Super-Cold but Irritatingly-Dry winter hasn't helped any!).  You *know* I need a steady supply of limes for my 'ritas, so on-a-whim, I decided to Google "Grow Limes Hydroponically" and stumbled onto this article. 

Then I shot off an email to my Bloggie Buddy, and fellow Veggie-Plant-Hoe, Finnyknits (aka Indie-Farms).  She just finished her Horticulture degree and appears to be hooked on hydroponics (for FOOD - not that *other* crop!).  I had scribbled out a preliminary schematic and asked her for her feedback.

Click to embiggen it :-)
Note: This was a rough draft, the design has changed since then!

Her feedback was that she had no direct experience with growing citrus hydroponically - but it certainly looks do-able.

First thing I did was nix the "Timer" - a recirculating system can run 24/7...

A 250 GPH submersible pump (this is the actual pump that I ordered)
Hydroton growing medium (I have no clue - yet - how much I'll need!) (I've already got a bag of it in the greenhouse)
An 8" Net Pot - made to fit on a 5-gallon bucket
Some 1/2" drip-line tubing (although I may switch that out for more flexible vinyl tubing) - appx 3 feet is all you need
Some 1/4" drip-line tubing - a couple of feet
Compression elbow fitting for 1/2" tubing (that might disappear if I switch to vinyl tubing)
1/2" Hose-end plug with cap (but that might get swapped-out if I switch to vinyl)
Y-valve for hose-end - with shut-off valves
3/4" female to 1/2" male hose adapter (this was tough to find!) (I found a plastic one in the plumbing aisle of the hardware store)
4-way drip manifold - make sure it will screw onto a 1/2" riser (I used a different brand than this - but Orbit is good because you can cap off the outlets you don't need)
24" rubber mulch ring - to cover the base of the tree/top of the planter and keep crap out of the hydroton and nutrient solution

So I bought all this stuff (plus even more - because I hadn't yet figured out how I was gonna pull this all together!), and left it sitting on the kitchen floor so I could look at it and cogitate on it.  If I stare at it long enough, I'm bound to figure it out (especially if I trip over it, nightly, right?!).

Here is a scribble of what I finally came up with (minus the net basket in the sketch - the basket is located up where the Hose-end plug is.  You'll see!):

Sorry for the scibbly-ness!

The main thing that I wanted was for it to be self-contained (*and* fit inside of a pretty planter-pot), and - even though Finny said I should remove the tree to change the nutrients and clean the bucket every two weeks! - I really don't want to be wrestling with a tree on a regular basis, so I wanted to have the ability to use the pump to remove most of the nutrient solution (which I will then recycle by watering other veggies) - without disassembling the beast!  I'm sure I'll still need to remove the tree periodically - and I've allowed for that with a longer length of 1/2" hose...

Okay...  Now for the assembly (which really isn't as difficult as it seems, REALLY!)



First, you'll need to prep your bucket with a notch at the top for the pump's cord.  I started out with a drill (that wasn't working very well), so I used our multi-cutter and a utility knife.  You could probably get away with just using a utility knife (but I'm pretty klutzy!).  I started by laying the cord across the top of the bucket and used a sharpie to mark the width of the wire, then I cut the notch:



The main thing is, you don't want the cord rising above the top edge because the net pot will sit flush on the rim of the bucket.

Then you'll need to drill a 1" hole in the top of the net bucket.  Make sure the hole is more toward the inside edge because you'll need clearance - inside of the bucket - for the plumbing/fittings.  Here I taped a post-it to the lip of the net pot and drew a line around the hose-end plug.


Then I secured the net pot in a vise and used a 1" spade bit to drill a hole.  Do it slowly - it'll take a couple of minutes to get through the plastic (if you drill too fast, the plastic might melt).


Okay, now we are ready for assembly!

Note: Pump should be flat on the bottom of the bucket and held in place with it's suction feet.  
I tilted it to take this picture.

The pump came with multiple hose fittings.  I used the smallest one which was just right for my 1/2" drip tubing.  I attached roughly 3" of tubing to the pump, then added the elbow fitting (compression fitting, slides right over the drip line and holds permanently).  Then I added another... (damn, now I wish I'd measured it!) I want to say appx three feet of 1/2" drip line.  I coiled it around the inside of the bucket and attempted to snake it upward ("attempted" is the key word here!) (I really think flexible vinyl may have been a better choice - but then I'd need to add hose clamps and it might not be compatible with the rest of my fittings!  Jury's still out on that!).  

I wanted the extra hose length because, as I'd mentioned, I want to have the ability to remove the tree (and net pot) from the bucket without discombobulating the pump setup.  If you don't mind discombobulation, you could probably just go straight-up from the pump.

Okay, this next part is tough to describe - and my pictures are closer to the "completion" stage, but anyway, you want to feed the 1/2" tubing up through the 1" hole you drilled in the lip of the net pot.  Then you attach the hose-end plug (also a compression fitting - so you're committed!).  Remember: Up through the hole BEFORE attaching the hose-end plug!


The black tube with the green rim (center of pic) is the hose-end plug.  Visible on top of the net pot is the Y-valve (with two shut-offs), which screwed onto the hose end plug.  The cap on the left actually came with the hose-end plug.  I removed the cap and moved it to the left side of the Y-Valve.  This is where I will attach a hose when I want to pump out the old nutrient solution.

The white fitting on the right is the 3/4" female to 1/2" male hose adapter (which I will probably cover with electrical tape because the bright-white is pretty unsightly!).

Okay...  We're almost done now! 

Next-up is the 4-way drip manifold which will screw onto the 1/2" hose-end adapter (that's the red-topped gizmo in the picture below).  Then attach 1/4" drip lines (I cut mine into 1-foot lengths, for now).  One end pushes onto the manifold plugs, and attach 2 GPH drip emitters to the other end and let them dangle into the net pot.


Close-up of 2GPH flag emitter

Next, put your bucket into a pretty pot, fill it roughly halfway with water and plug it into a GFCI outlet.  Watch it run and make sure it doesn't leak (or if there are dribbles, make sure they drip back into the bucket - otherwise you'll burn-out your pump when it runs dry).

Final (and most important) step:

Reward yourself for a job well done!
(I mean, hey, it's National Margarita Day!)

Okay, that's it so far!  I have ordered a spineless dwarf mexican lime tree and I'm waiting for it to arrive.  Once it does, I'll rinse my hydroton and plant it.  I've also ordered the rubber-mulch tree ring which - I'm hoping - will disguise some of my ugly plumbing!

I'll post more as I make more progress.  I still need to research what kind of nutrients I should use - and am hoping to lean more toward organics if I can...

Stay tuned!

Oh, and thank you for using my Amazon links!  

QT's Amazon Link



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Quickie Update: Limoncello is DONE!

Wellllll...  After almost two and a half years in the making...


We have Limoncello!  I finally sampled it today, and it is Ahhhhh-MAZING!  Smooth, citrusy, and sweet!

In case you're new here (or if you'd forgotten), it all started back in September 2011.  The jug o' hooch got stashed in the back of the closet and promptly forgotten!

Then it continued, last month.  I finally sampled it today.  Ohhhh yes!  Very good!

Oh, and thank you for using my Amazon links!  


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Recipe: Easy Peasey Cottage Cheesy!

Warning: Long and Rambly (and Cheesy!) Post ahead...

First: Whenever I think of the word "Cheese" - I hear *this* voice in my head!



Anyway, I follow all these Foodie-Bloggers, and Garden-Bloggers, and Pottery/Artsy Bloggers, and  General/Miscellaneous-Stuff-Bloggers...

And their posts frequently inspire me to try new things - which is (generally) pretty cool.  But (as evidenced by my brief forays into hooch-making) can also cause me to go off half-cocked and create little more than a BIG mess.  Yet I remain undeterred, undaunted, unfazed, whatevers.  Sometimes I conveniently "forget" what a PITA something is, and I go and do it all again (I'm thinking about jam-making here), and I end up succeeding - in spite of myself!

So what does all of this have to do with Cottage Cheese?  Yeah, yeah, keep your shirt on - I'm getting to it!

Over time, I'd read several blog-posts (and I really wish I could remember who, specifically, I can blame for this!) about cheese-making and I thought "Wow. That's pretty cool!"  So I Googled further and came to the conclusion that it shouldn't be all that difficult to do.  I also found some basic cheese-making kits that ended up on my Amazon Wish-List.  This one: Mozzarella and Ricotta, and this one: Basic Cheesemaking kit. For Valentines Day, Hubbie got both of them for me (Yay Hubbie!!!)


Coincidentally, the week before Valentines, my BFF and I got together for one of our (Legendary) IKEA Raids, and one of the topics of discussion was her interest in learning more about cheese-making.  So when I opened my Valentines Gift I thought "How fortuitous!" and immediately texted her to see if she wanted to come over and experience cheese-making, firsthand (well, not ON Valentines Day, but the Saturday after!).

So I picked up a couple of gallons of organic (but not "raw") milk in anticipation of Cheese-Fest-Weekend:  One gallon of whole milk for Mozzarella, and one gallon of 1% for Cottage Cheese (since that was another, related conversation).

I'm going to skip the whole play-by-play on our first attempt at cheese making because - while we had fun making it - well, let's just say it's not *quite* as easy as the interwebs led me to believe.  And the end result, while edible, bore very little resemblance to Mozzarella.  It was more like Queso Fresco (similar flavor, but not a stringy/stretchy texture).  It was tasty - don't get me wrong - but not what I was hoping for.  Whenever I get around to making a SUCCESSFUL batch of Mozzarella, I promise I'll share, k?!

Okay then!

After my BFF left (with 1/3 of a block of Queso Fresco!), I still had a gallon of 1% milk (that nobody here will drink!), so I decided I'd tackle a batch of Cottage Cheese.  This is (one of many) nice things about working from home - I can multi-task while earning a living!  What follows is a copy/paste of the emails I'd sent my BFF that day...

* * * * *
http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Cottage-Cheese 
I'm trying the Vinegar Method (fastest/easiest) today with Organic 1% milk + Heavy Whipping Cream at the end.  Will report back..

So far, WAAAAAAY easier than Mozzarella/Queso Fresco! (I got cottage-cheesy lumps almost immediately after adding the vinegar)

Next: I'll try the Rennet Method (with whole milk).  That one has to rest 4 hours, but I bet it won't have that "sour" taste you were talking about.  Gonna have to wait a bit (I'll need to eat the stuff I'm making today - first!  That'll take me a few days).

* * * * *
Okay...  We have results!

Yield was...  Disappointing!  One large-ish bowl (I'd say about enough to fit into one of the smaller 16oz tubs).

The leftover liquid was not whey (clear, almost greenish) - but sour milk (white).  Just for grins, I poured most of it back into the pot and dribbled 12 drops of rennet - just to see what will happen (probably nothing usable).  I'm leaving it sit, undisturbed, for an hour or so.

Texture: "Different" - almost like a cross between cottage cheese and ricotta.  The curds (after mixing with cream) seem a lot smaller.  And they seem to want to squish together and (almost) solidify when you squish 'em with a spoon (can't do that with regular cottage cheese.  The curds stay curdy).  It's actually a pretty nice texture - but not what I was expecting.

Flavor: Quite good.  I ended up adding more cream than what the recipe called for (appx 3/4 cup).  I can't tell if it tastes sour because my kitchen smells like vinegar (still got the pot of vinegar+milk+rennet on the stove).  I added salt and a teensy sprinkle of Splenda (just a pinch).  It is quite tasty.

I've put it in a plastic container in the fridge and I'll sample it again later...

Bottom Line: It was quick and easy and not too messy.  I do prefer the taste to store-bought.  It's definitely more expensive than store-bought (would be less-so, had I bought plain ol' milk - rather than Organic).
I want to try the Rennet method next. Maybe later this week...

Shoot.  Now I want my own cow!!! lol

Straining the curds

Curds, up close 'n personal
Done!
(or is it?!)

* * * * *
Kitchen Science - Part III (Alternate Title: Cheese Is Weird)

Okay, I'd plopped 12 drops of rennet into the remaining milky vinegar gooze (actually, it wasn't ALL of the leftover gooze, the first big bowlful went down the drain before I got all "Mad Scientist" with this...).  I left it alone for about 5-10 minutes then stuck a spoon in it ('cuz I just can't leave sh*t alone!).  Discovered it was starting to coagulate and separate (YAY) so I semi-sliced it with the spoon, plopped the lid back on the pot and let it set for another hour(ish).

Opened the lid and saw this:

Tasty, huh?  In a Doctor Frankenstein/Biology Class/Medical Examiner's Office sorta way...

Ehh...  WTF...

I attempted to rinse my cheesecloth (HAHAHAHAHA) to line the colander...  Poured it in and QUICKLY discovered that this shit ain't gonna drain through cheesecloth.  If I squoze it hard, well...  Flashbacks to puberty, k?  Goozy white lumps would shoot-out (with surprising velocity) in various directions.

Science is Messy!

So yeah, I quickly abandoned the whole cheesecloth idea and figured I didn't really care if I lost some of it through my mesh strainer...



This proved not to be an issue since it didn't really want to drain through THAT either!  But I did notice something:  THIS looks like cottage cheese!

Gave it a taste (yes, I AM very brave - thankyewverymuch!)...  Not bad, actually.  Yes, a bit sour - but not like "Ew Vinegar" - it was more subtle than that.  I did like the creamy texture and found myself wondering what would happen if I stirred some of it back into the first batch.

Removed the first batch from the fridge and confirmed that it seems awfully dry and - actually - almost reminded me more of cream cheese.  It really wasn't "curdy" at all.  Anyway, scooped a couple of TBS of batch #1 into a bowl, and added a couple tsp of the Rennet Gooze into that.  Stirred it up and gave it a taste...  Not bad!  Salted and Splenda'd it.  Better still.

So I mixed ALL of the Rennet Gooze back into Batch #1.  More salt and Splenda. 

Okay, NOW it's done!

Now it looks more like store-bought (but tastes better, I think).  Yes, there is a "hint" of sourness - but overall, pretty good.

I still haven't read the book, but the Acid seems to be what causes the "clotting" and the Rennet provides more of a "gelatinous" texture.  So I guess the "Art" part of this is knowing which-proportion-of-what to put together - to end up with something you like.

All told: I ended up with a FULL 16 oz. plastic container (before, it was Not-Quite-Full).
And I think, maybe, this email is gonna get re-jiggered and posted on my blog.  But I figured you'd like to know how this came out!

Not bad...  Not bad at all and I will be trying this again!

* * * * *
Final footnote:  I made "fauxtatoes" to serve with dinner tonight.  Steamed a head of cauliflower with a couple of very small red potatoes.  Mashed 'em up.  Normally, I add cream and sour cream - but tonight I added some of my cottage cheese as I squished everything up.  It really amped-up the 'taters!  Eggzellent (and relatively low-carb).


P.S. Thank you for using my Amazon Links (if you so choose!) QT's Amazon Affiliate Link. It won't alter your shopping experience, but it might net me a few pennies! ;-)


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Less Rambling, More RECIPES: Garlicky Chicken Soup

This weekend, Hubs thought he was coming down with a bug.  So I bought him some fresh-squeezed OJ from the Farmer's Market (Yesss!!  I am sticking with my Non-Resolution for 2014!), and I also made him a Vat o' Chicken Soup (which, as we all know, cures EVERYTHING).  I added a bunch of garlic, too...

Here's a Quickie Post ('cause my cousin, a FB Friend, asked for the recipe - which was an "Oh sh*t, I'm cleaning out the fridge and I can't remember EXACTLY what I did!" - so take this with the requisite grain of salt, k?  Bottom Line: YMMV!)



QT's Garlicky Chicken Soup - with Spinach Ravioli
Yield: a Big vat o' soup! (appx 3.5 qts +/-)


  • 1 whole garlic rotisserie chicken (from the grocery store deli)
  • 4 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 medium carrots, chopped into 1" chunks
  • 1 leek, sliced into skinny O's (only the white and light green parts)
  • 2-3 cloves of minced, fresh garlic
  • appx 3 big lacinato kale leaves (remove the white center stem, then chop the leaves) (these are optional, btw)
  • small bunch of fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/2-1 cup fresh white mushrooms, sliced
  • 32 oz carton of chicken stock (low sodium)
  • 1/2 jar of prepared marinara sauce (mine was just the store-brand "Tomato, Onion and Garlic" flavored)
  • (or I've also just used a can of "Italian Style" stewed tomatoes when I don't have spag-sauce handy)
  • 1 (10 oz?) can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • appx 3 cups water
  • 1-2 servings (cubes, whatevers) of chicken bouillon
  • 1 package pre-made spinach ravioli (from the 'frigerated section of the store)
  • Seasoning salt (I used Montreal Chicken Seasoning, and some garlic-based seasoning salt - and I added a few add'l shakes of straight garlic powder).
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (or use dried if that's all you have)
Instructions:
  1. Saute veggies in olive oil (I used Garlic-infused EVOO) in order of needs-cookingness. Onions, garlic, celery and carrots first. Stir over medium-low heat 'til onions are limp and translucent. Then add kale and spinach and let 'em limpify too. Mushrooms go in last - and here's where you start adding your seasonings.
  2. Add chicken stock and as it starts heating up, start discombobulating your rotisserie chicken. Toss the skin, bones and other icky bits. You can chop it into bite sized pieces if you like - but the chicken kind of ended up disintegrating on it's own as the soup cooked.
  3. I slowly brought the pot to a boil, then turned it down to simmer. I added the marinara, cream of chicken, water and bouillon at this stage (it was kind of a taste and tweak game at this point). All told, I think I let it simmer about an hour.
This soup was pretty-damn-good. and *should* cure whatever ails ya!  Give it a try and let me know what you think, k?!


Ramblings - Plus Recipe: Cream of Broccoli Soup

First, a wee bit of rambling, k? (Gotta live-up to the blog's name, right?!)

For those of you who live in remote caves in the Himalayas, or East Bumf**k, or wherever...  While the rest of the country has been digging out from record snowfalls and shivering their way through Polar Vortexes and/or whatever-the-heck kinda Plagues and Pestilence wrought by the Apocalypse of 2014... California is having, like, one of the driest, mildest winters of all time.  It's been so dry and pleasant, in fact, that I not only opened the TiKi BaR in January, but I've spent SEVERAL pleasant afternoons (wearing shorts 'n tank top 'n flip-flops, thankyewverymuch), while savoring Frosty Adult Beverages and generally gloating on Facebook (haven't yet confirmed just how many East Coasters have un-friended me!)

Nevertheless, the lack of rain (and, more specifically, lack of snowfall in the Sierras) is more-than troubling.  I vaguely remember living through imposed water-restrictions (No washing of cars, no watering of lawns, "sharing" flushes, etc.) when I was a kid, and it wasn't fun.  And it really looks like we may be headed down that path, again.  This is particularly troubling with our rather-large (by urban-standards) 1/4 acre lot.  We've got the pool, and lawns, and landscaping and :::GASP::: my GARDEN to worry about.  And I have no idea what the penalties are - for exceeding your monthly water allotments (but I bet hubs'll let me know - QUITE clearly - whenever we exceed them!).

So I have decided to take at least one of my raised beds "out of rotation" for the upcoming summer growing season.  Last year's tomato-harvest was suck-tastic (to say the least), so it's probably just as well.  Indie-Farms (aka Finnyknits) sez I need a "Crop Rotation Plan" so I'll use that as further justification to leave at least one bed fallow, this year...

I'm going to dial-back my tomato plantings significantly this year - and I'll only grow 'maters in my Grow-Boxes *** (self-watering patio planters that I had surprisingly good success with, last year).  I'll probably plant squashes in my raised beds (I'm pretty sure those aren't the same "family" as tomatoes and peppers).  And my Grow-Box/Planters will get fresh soil and will house a few "select" varieties of tomatoes (you have NO idea how difficult it is for me to narrow-down my choices!  It's like a disease or somethin'!).

Anyway, I'll post more about that later...  I thought I might start my seedlings this weekend (WAY fewer than last year, k?!), but it didn't happen.  Stay tuned for updates!

*** Note: I've decided to "pimp myself" on Amazon, since I post so many links to them (because I buy so damned much from them!) (Srsly, there's no sense in sorting my VISA transactions alphabetically 'cause they're all "Amazon!").  Anyhooo, if you click on my Amazon Links, I may get a wee bit o' spliff (although, please bear with me while I work out the kinks!).  Certainly not enough to retire to my own Private Island in the Caribbean - but I'll gladly accept a teensy commission.  Please don't consider me a sell-out, k? (Hell, my traffic #'s are so low, it's almost laughable)  Honestly, I only post links for products that I use (and can vouch for) myself (and have probably purchased from Amazon already)!

Okay.......  Enough "Rambling" - let's get to today's RECIPE, shall we?!

Oh yeah!  The reason I started rambling about weather was because we are FINALLY getting a glimpse of winter - Yay! (I had to wash TWO cars and water my Patio Plants - twice, even - to make it happen!).  Yep.  We've had, like, THREE WHOLE DAYS OF RAIN and rainy, cloudy days call for Hot, Stick-To-Your-Ribs kinda meals. I've been making pot roasts and GALLONS of soups.  Which brings me to today's recipe - which was Ahhh-MAZINGLY delicious! (as evidenced by the fact that Hubs snarfed it ALL down before I could even *think* about freezing it!) (Frankly, I consider myself lucky to have gotten a couple of small bowls out of it!)



QT's Cream of Broccoli Soup (Hubs-Approved, even!)
Yield: I honestly don't remember, but it was WAY MORE than 2 ppl could eat in one sitting!

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups fresh broccoli florets
  • 6 green onions (reserve green tops for garnish)
  • 1 medium shallot (optional)
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 32 oz carton of chicken (or veggie) stock
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I used a "Mexican Blend" of jack+mild cheddar+queso+asadero)
  • 1-2 T butter
  • 1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 C Crema Casera (or Creme Fraiche)*
  • Seasoning salt, to taste**
Instructions:

  1. Chop broccoli into bite-sized pieces (cooks faster that way).  You can also add some of the broccoli stalks, if you like - just make sure you chop 'em into very small chunks
  2. Chop the white part of the onions and (optional) shallot into small chunks
  3. Chop celery into small chunks
  4. Start by melting butter w/olive oil in large soup pot (I used my 4.25 qt dutch oven)
  5. Dump in onions, shallots and celery.  Saute til limp and translucent
  6. Add broccoli and stir around in the oil for about a minute
  7. Add Chicken Stock, bring to a boil - stirring constantly
  8. Reduce heat and let it simmer for appx 30 mins
  9. Hit it, lightly, with an immersion blender to break-up the bigger chunks.  You can puree it as much as you like.  I like it kinda lumpy!
  10. Return to low heat and stir in shredded cheese and cream. 
  11. Garnish with chopped green onions and serve immediately.  Deeeeee-lish!

*From what I can gather, Crema Casera and Creme Fraiche are almost the same thing.  I've never had the latter, so I can't confirm.  In any event, by using Crema Casera (which is pretty easy to find here in San Jose!), I didn't need any thickeners.  If you can't purchase Crema Casera or Creme Fraiche, you can substitute heavy cream + sour cream (I'm guesstimating 3/4 c cream to 1/4 c sour cream), or just use half-and-half.  You might need to add a thickening agent (roux of butter + flour, or water + corn starch, or potato starch)
**I used Goya Adobo with Pepper Seasoning.  I think this might be an East Coast thing because friend, Joysey K, sent me a jar after she raved about it (I concur - it's AWESOME!).  Luckily, Amazon's got it, too.  I suspect I'll be needing more, very soon!

Amazon Affiliate Link (Thanks for your support!)



Monday, January 27, 2014

Recipe: Sweet Potato Leek Soup

If you hang out here on a semi-regular basis, you probably know that I'm a bit of a nutcase when it comes to wanting to know where my food comes from.  Part of it comes from watching all those funky Food documentaries on Netflix (Food, Inc., King Corn, Frankensteer, etc.), and part of it is probably hereditary (my mom grew up on a farm, and my dad and I spent a couple of years "Playing Farmer" on her old homestead in Utah, after we'd inherited it from Grandpa).

And if you happen to know ME in the real world, you'll know I don't "Do" resolutions.

Howsomever...  The two don't have to be mutually exclusive.  I mean, we did buy Spreckles, the Fair Pig, a couple of years ago (and we've still got some pork chops and ribs in the freezer!).  And I do subscribe to Farm Fresh To You - where I get a monthly delivery of fresh organic produce (used to be weekly, but we just couldn't eat through THAT much produce!).

Now, I recently discovered that one of our local Farmer's Markets is actually open year-round (Yay!), so that brings me to my NON-Resolution for 2014:  Wherever possible, I am going to refrain from buying produce at the grocery store (in spite of the fact that, yes, they do have a decent selection of organics).  Instead, I am going to make an effort to :::GASP::: "Plan-ahead" and buy all of my produce at the Farmer's Market.

I might even take it a step further and try to convince myself to actually WALK to the Farmer's Market - but that's more of a long-range goal (since I've only recently regained the ability to walk!).

So anyhoooo...  My stash of sweet potatoes from the Farm-Share delivery was getting a bit overwhelming.  I also had a couple of leeks that were threatening to get mushy. I know I like Potato-Leek Soup - but potatoes don't exactly love me (carbs, ya know?). Sweet potatoes, surprisingly, are lower in net carbs and also lower on the glycemic index. And, frankly, I think sweet 'taters taste better.  So I decided to Google "Sweet Potato Leek Soup" and found this recipe.

But also in the course of my Googling, I discovered that MyRecipes.com has a feature where you can key in all sort of different ingredients and it'll come back with some recipe ideas.  So I tried various combinations of ingredients (including cauliflower and corn) and ended up finding this recipe.

So those two recipes were kind of my starting point for today's creation...


Mmmm! Soup!

QT's Sweet Potato Leek Soup
Yields - appx 6 generous servings

Ingredients
  • 2 leeks
  • 2 ribs celery
  • appx 1-1/2 lbs small sweet potatoes (in my case, appx 11 small spuds)
  • 1 shallot (optional - I had it on-hand)
  • 1/2 head cauliflower
  • 32 oz chicken (or vegetable) stock
  • 2-3 cups corn kernels (I used frozen)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup cooking sherry
  • appx 2 TBS Extra Virgin olive oil (I used garlic-infused EVOO)
  • garlic sea salt
  • white pepper
  • Seasoning Salt (whatever brand you happen to like)
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder
  • dash of smoked paprika
Instructions
  1. Wash and slice the white and light-green parts of your leeks into small "rounds."  I liked the first recipe's suggestion to use the salad spinner for cleaning the leeks after they are sliced (MUCH easier!).  Finely chop your celery and shallot. Coarsely chop your cauliflower.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot (I used my 4.25 qt dutch oven), then add the chopped veggies. Saute lightly on medium heat 'til limp and translucent (the cauliflower won't go limp, but it will begin to soften).  Do not brown your veggies - you just want 'em soft.
  3. Peel and slice your sweet potatoes into "coins" while the veggies are limpifying.  Then add the sweet taters to the pot and saute them lightly.
  4. Pour the chicken (or veggie) stock into the pot.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer.  Cover and let it blorp for awhile.  I think it took roughly 30-45 minutes for the taters and cauliflower to get truly mushy - but that's what you're going for...
  5. Turn off the heat and let it cool just a bit.  Then grab your immersion blender and puree the soup until smooth (that's an optional step).
  6. Return the pot to the stove and dump in your frozen corn (mine was frozen solid, so I dumped a sizeable chunk into the pot!).  Cook on medium low 'til the corn is heated.
  7. Add the cream, sour cream and cooking sherry.
  8. Give it a taste and decide what seasonings it needs.  I used my garlic sea-salt grinder and a combination of Lawry's Seasoning Salt (should be available at any grocery store) and Andersen's Seasoning (which is probably just a California Thing - I bought it at Pea Soup Andersen's Restaurant and have not been able to find it online).  It was still a bit bland so I added some white pepper.  Then a large pinch of cardamom (which gave it a bit of a "high note") and a smaller pinch of curry powder.
  9. Serve with a dash of paprika for color
Sweet Potato "coins" getting ready to dive into the hot tub!

Overall, it's a very mild (spice-wise) soup, but quite thick and hearty.  And I expect it should freeze well - but I didn't end up with 15-gallons like I normally do!

It really was quite tasty - and definitely worth making again.

Cheers!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Hooch Update...

...Such as it is!

And WARNING: This *may* be a bit rambly, k?!

So, admittedly, I have a tendency to go off half-cocked sometimes.  And this Hard Cider Experiment definitely falls under the heading of "Maybe you should've thought this through, first!"

Nevertheless - I figure I can always serve as a Bad Example, right?!

So I started posting my "recipe" last week.  And it was loosely-based on a recipe that I found online.  And I went all Gangbusters on it by purchasing a glass carboy and airlock and assorted ingredients, and combining everything in a kind of haphazard fashion, and - Miracle of Miracles - it behaved the way it was supposed to!  It started fermenting and bubbling and whatnot - Yay!

Well, after my initial throwing-together-of-stuff, I read thru the intertubes a little further and started second-guessing myself.  End result being: "Hmm. Maybe I should've used more sweetener.  Oh well!"

So the brew has been burbling most-happily all week long and yesterday, I noticed the burbling started to slow down (and, as of this morning, it had mostly stopped!).  In other words, fermentation was pretty-much complete.  But the contents of the jug were still *quite* opaque and I figured it needed to be transferred into another container at this point - and allowed to rest for awhile so the sediment would settle - but I really wasn't sure.

Now, I absolutely ABHOR shopping (I know - weird huh?!), so most of my acquisitions arrive via Big Brown Truck - courtesy of Amazon.  But I found a [somewhat] local Brewery Supply store up in north San Jose: Beer and Wine Makers of America.  I purchased my 3 gallon carboy there and was really impressed with the owner of the shop and how knowledgeable and helpful he was.  Last weekend, there were quite a few people in his (teeny tiny) shop, asking lots and lots of questions.  I was more of an "I know what I want so I'll get out of your hair" kinda customer - last weekend!

I made another trek out there, yesterday afternoon.  Thankfully, I was the only customer, so when he asked if he could help me I was all "Yeah, I bought a 3 gallon carboy from you, last weekend, to make a Hard Cider/Meady/Apple Cyser Brew and it's been bubbling quite merrily all week long.  But now the bubbling has stopped and I think it's time for me to do something else.  What's next?"

Well sh*t-howdy if he didn't tell me!  I pelted him with dozens of questions - including expressing my apprehension about not using enough sweetener. "How much did you use?" "2 lbs of honey per gallon of water, plus about half-a-gallon of cider" to which he agreed "Yeah. Your cider's gonna be bone dry." (Oops).  Also - there's not much I can do about it now, but he said I can add honey when I serve it.

(But for future Cysers, he suggested doubling the quantity of honey to 4 lbs. per gallon)

I expressed a desire for it to be sweeter and carbonated.  Apparently 'sweeter' isn't likely to happen at this stage of the game (apparently adding more honey will kick-start another fermentation which, I gathered, was not a good thing).  But I can increase the carbonation by adding corn sugar at a rate of up to 1 cup per gallon...

He also shared a few other helpful hints (that I can't recall, offhand), but the general gist I came away  with was:  Seems like Hard-Cider was probably a good choice for my first attempt at brewing.  Evidently it's pretty difficult to f**k-up hard cider - whereas, with beer, there's apparently a million-and-one things you can do to f**k that up.  So "Yay Me" for starting with hard cider, right?!

Okay.  So enough yammering.  What's going on with the Mad Scientist Experiment???

Well, I was right about needing to do something when the burbling stopped.  It's now time for a secondary fermentation.  I held onto the round glass bottle that the Martinelli's Cider came in, and I also picked up two more 1-gallon glass jugs at the brew shop.  I also picked up a couple more airlocks and a siphon (and bunch of other sh*t because I think I'm gonna attempt ***GASP*** Beer-Brewing, next!).

So today I sanitized everything.  Then I took another hydrometer reading:

I must shamefully admit that I have NO idea what this means (YET!)

Then I sanitized everything and siphoned the brew out of the 3-gallon carboy, and into 2 x 1 gallon jugs and 1 x 1/2 gallon (appx) jug.  And I think (but I'm not sure) that's called "racking."  Anyway, we are going into "2-stage fermentation" (I'm pretty-sure that's correct!) (I really need to read Hub's book on brewing - if only so I can sound somewhat-intelligent!!!)

I discovered that the whole "siphoning" chore is actually a 2-person task (just to get it started, anyway).  Thankfully, the beer-making kit has a wand-thingie that shuts-off the siphon if it's not pressed against the 'receiving' bottle.  So anyway, I siphoned-off most of the brew - being careful not to stir-up the yeasty sediment (yeasty stuff was about 1" deep, on the bottom of the carboy).

Hey - at least it's a pretty color, right?!!

I did sample a taste of it (poured the test-brew from the test-tube into a glass) and Hoo-Boy!  Yes, it is DRY!  (I suspect I'll be drinking "spritzers" with 7-Up!).

I did mix-up 1 cup of corn sugar (from the brew-shop) with 1 cup of bottled-water + a splooge of honey.  I divided the add'l sweetener "somewhat equally" into the secondary containers.  Then I popped airlocks on the top and we'll see what happens (presumably, the additional sweetener will increase carbonation - but not sweetness).

Now we let it set for a few more weeks.  No clue what's gonna happen next, but This Is An Adventure, right?!!!

(Yeah. Whatever!!!)

So there is an update on my latest Wild Hair...  More to follow, I'm sure.

(including a future attempt at beer-making.  I bought Hubs a beer-making kit a couple of Christmases ago - but it's been sitting in the box ever since.  I've used some of the beer-making components for my Cyser, but I picked up actual beer-ingredients yesterday so I may attempt that in the not-too-distant future).


 


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