Sunday, May 25, 2014

Garden Update: Week of 5/18/2014

Here is what is happening around our yard this past week.

Our trunk load (no joking... a dump truck load) of mulch is placed and spread in all the planting beds and around the garden fence.

Cleaned up a deprived and ignored bed that bordered our beloved neighbors.

Moved a large burning bush that was blocking our mulberry tree. Unearthed some tulip bulbs in the shady spot that we placed the bush. So the tulips had to be relocated to a sunnier spot in the yard. I love how gardening projects just lead into one another!


Cut the grass for the first time this season. We lowered the length down to 2.5 inches as we wanted the sunlight to reach the grass seed we placed last week. Usually we cut the grass at 3 inches.

Time to get planting...
Mojoto mint, lemon balm, lemon mint, rosemary, pineapple sage, lots of lettuce, kale, nasturtium, 4 peppers and 29 tomato plants (I may have gone a little over board), all but 3 tomato plants were from seed. Hoping to finish up the rest of the garden this week which should go pretty quick as just about everything left is seeds. 

Planted our front door flower pots. Tried the "thriller, spiller and filler method" with the artistic suggestions from my youngest daughter. In this method, there's one tall, eye-catcher, a creeping/vine variety and a species that fills in nicely - all in the same pot! We are hoping get bigger, as long as the deer stay off them.


We attempted to find morels on 2 hikes in the area, but were disappointed. We can't even seem to find any remnants of where they were picked. But lucky we spotted ramps. Everyone in the family helped harvest 2 shopping bags full. The final weight was 2 and a half pounds after removing the leaves and roots. Look for our next post on spotting and using ramps.


Here is what else you might have missed for the week:

http://www.sustainableblessings.com/2014/05/blanching-tutorial.htmlhttp://www.sustainableblessings.com/2014/05/morel-asparagus-quiche.html

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blanching Tutorial

What's blanching? And why all the fuss?

Blanching is the process of placing fresh vegetables in boiling water or steam for a very short time amount of time to "seal in freshness".

This process is a must if you desire to freeze your produce. By not blanching your vegetables you are loosing texture, color and flavor. Blanching not only cleans the vegetable but helps it to not to loose deliciously healthy vitamins and minerals.

The best way to prepare your vegetables for freezing is to use the boiling water method. You can use a blancher or large saucepan with a wire basket to fit in the pot or large slotted spoon. Personally, I use a large pot and a wok spoon.

Boiling Water Blanching: 
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. 
  2. Prepare your vegetables by chopping or slicing. 
  3. Place approximately 1 pound of the same vegetables into the blanching basket. 
  4. Place vegetables into the boiling water for the recommended branching time.
  5. Return the water to a boil as quick as possible. 
  6. Start your blanching time as soon as the water returns to a boil. 
  7. Remove the vegetables from the boiling water when the blanching time is completed with a wire stainer. 
  8. Place the blanched vegetables into a large bowl of ice cold water, 60ºF or below. This stops the cooking process. 
  9. Once the vegetables have cooled, you can drain the ice cold water. 
  10. Label your freezer-grade plastic zipper bags with name of the vegetables and the date. 
  11. Place blanched vegetables in plastic bag. Try to squeeze out as much air as possible. 
  12. Freeze your bag laying flat, to maximize your freezer space. 


Per Nation Center for Home Preservation, blanching the vegetables for the recommended times below is important to preserve your harvest. If you don't blanch long enough, this can stimulate the enzymes in the vegetable to accelerate ripening. If you blanch too long, the vegetables can loose color, flavor, vitamins and minerals.

Blanching Time:

VegetableMinutes
Artichoke (heart)7
Asparagus2 to 4
Beans- Snap, Green, or Wax 3
Beans- Lima, Butter, or Pinto2 to 4
Broccoli5
Brussel Sprouts (head)3 to 5
Carrots2 to 5
Cauliflower (flowerets)3
Celery3
Corn (on-the-cob)7 to 11
Corn (kernel) 4
Eggplant4
Mushrooms 3 to 5
Okra 3 to 4
Peas (edible pod) 1.5 to 3
Peas (blackeye) 2
Peas- Green1.5
Peppers-Sweet2 to 3
Potatoes (new) 3 to 5
Rutabagas 33
Soybeans- Green 5
Spinach15 seconds
Squash- Summer3
Turnips or Parsnips2
Zucchini3

Note: Microwave streaming is not an effective method for blanching because the vegetables can cook unevenly and some enzymes may still be active and cause additional ripening.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Morel & Asparagus Quiche

Spring is in full swing and glimpses of summer are sneaking through around here. This recipe captures the harvests of this time of year and combines them into a very special recipe you will love.


Morel & Asparagus Quiche
Ingredients:
  • 1 pie tin

  • 1 pre-made pie crust
  • 
3/4 cup shredded cheese
 (used mozzarella)
  • 6 eggs

  • 1 cup of milk

  • 1/2 tablespoon thyme 

  • 1/2 tablespoon basil

  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 cup of uncooked morel mushrooms, chopped 

  • 6-8 spears of asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup fresh spinach, chopped

Directions:
  • If you are using fresh morels, check out our prior post on how to prepare morels.
  • Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  • Sauté morels over medium heat for 10 minutes. Always cook morels! 
  • Place shredded cheese into the bottom of the pie crust.
  • In a large bowl whisk together eggs, milk, thyme, basil, onion powder and Parmesan cheese.
  • Add morels, asparagus and spinach to egg mixture. Stir to combine.
  • Pour into pie crust.
  • Bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes until the top is golden brown and the eggs are solid in the middle. (You could check this with a toothpick or a fork).

Click for more homemade recipes from Sustainable Blessings.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Garden Update: Week of 5/11/2014

Last year brought much change around our house and with these changes brought less time to tend to the garden. This year we have been working hard to allow me (Michelle) more time to be with my girls and garden! With this new focus, I have decided to dedicate more time for the yard. So we are starting to keep track of all the work we are doing around here.

Check out our past week:

We have had a wild weather week. It rained and then rained some more. There were a few days of severe thunderstorms and flash flooding. And... a frost warning too just to keep thing interesting. Our weather radio got a workout this past week, but all is well at our house.  Gotta love Wisconsin weather!

We picked up a new bird bath. This was my Mother's Day gift, plus breakfast in bed with roses!


Right on que the tulips decided to bloom on Mother's Day. That was a gift in itself.


We started to see Hummingbirds! So it was time to fill up the hummingbird feeder with homemade hummingbird nectar.  Our feeder is right outside our kitchen bay window, so we get to see the hummingbirds quite often. Here is our Homemade Hummingbird Nectar recipe.

http://www.sustainableblessings.com/2013/07/homemade-hummingbird-nectar.html

The yard got some much needed attention. Ron has been busy with sweeping, aerating and seeding the lawn. A much need task as a drought several years ago left a few bare areas that we have pretty much ignored.

We tried to rototill the garden but the rototiller had other plans... The handlebar snapped off after just a few passes in the garden. So my jack-of-all-trades husband welded and grinded the pieces back together and strengthened the other handle too. Then the garden did get rototilled!

There were a few surprises discovered in the garden.  We had a some wintered over vegetables and herbs. There are onions (guess we forget to harvest a few), lettuce (because I let it go to seed last fall) and parsley back again.

Our first harvest took place this week. We harvested 10 ounces of asparagus. This may not seem like much but asparagus takes 2 years of growing before you even get to harvest it and this is our very first harvest ever! I can't wait for this patch to take off in the years to come.


Check out our recipe for Cream of Asparagus Soup to use up some of your harvest.

http://www.sustainableblessings.com/2013/07/cream-of-asparagus-soup.html

Happy gardening this coming week!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Garden Journaling

What did I plant here last year? When did I start planting my seeds inside? When will the raspberries be ready to be harvested?

These are all thoughts that can go through a gardener's head throughout the year. But now you can easily take the guess work out of gardening by keeping a gardening journal.


This can be as elaborate as you wish. For me, my garden journal is a simple spiral bound notebook I use year after year. A more elaborate design may include seed packets, plant markers from purchased plants, drawings or photographs.

What to write in your journal?
  • The name of plants you grew from seed and when you planted them.
  • The name of every plant you place in your garden and yard; perennial or annual. Note where the plants are placed in which planting bed or the direction of the yard.
  • Any yard maintenance you did: placing mulch, making a new planting bed or trimming trees.
  • Any problems with the weather or animal issues in the yard. 
  • Draw out your vegetable garden design for the year. This helps you to rotate the types of plants placed every year which is beneficial for the soil and your harvest.
  • A list of what is harvested when and how much or the weight of what was harvested. (this is my favorite part!) 
  • An additional thing we keep track of is what and how much we freeze, dehydrate or can from the garden and when. 
Take your que from history, no one in America is better known for his garden journaling then Thomas Jefferson. He spent countless hours chronologizing the garden happenings at his beloved Monticello.

Image Credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation
No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the Earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. - Thomas Jefferson
 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Pie Crust

No need to buy pre-made pie crusts anymore! Homemade flaky pie crusts are a snap to make and much more delicious.


Pie Crust
(makes 2 pie crusts)
Ingredients:
  • 2 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for rolling 
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and frozen
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 8 tablespoons ice water
  • Food processor
  • 9-inch pie pan 
Instructions:
  • Place flour, salt and sugar into a food processor and pulse to mix. 
  • Add butter and pulse, about 10 times. The consistency should be coarse with pea-sized bits of butter remaining.
  • Add ice cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse the mixture until dough begins to stick together.
  • Remove dough and place on clean surface. Knead dough a few times to flatten the remaining butter bits into the dough better. This step makes the crust flaky. 
  • Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Sprinkle with flour lightly and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours to make the dough stiffer and easier to manipulate. Dough should be used within 2 days of mixing. 
  • When you are ready to bake your pie, remove the crust from the refrigerator. Let dough sit for about 15 minutes to start to soften and make it easier to roll out. 
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough with a rolling pin. Shape dough while rolling in to a 12 inch circle. Make sure the dough is not sticking to the surface when you are rolling it out. If need be, you can sprinkle the surface with more flour. 
  • Place rolled out dough into a 9 inch pie pan. Press dough down into the pan and along the sides. Trim any overhanging edges of the dough with a kitchen scissors.
  • Add your choice of filling to the pie.
  • Repeat the rolling out process for the remaining dough. 
  • Gently place the top piece of the pie crust over the filling. 
  • Pinch the top and bottom pieces to together. Trim any excess pie crust.
  • Flute edges of the crust but pinching together with forefinger and thumb or pressing crust with a fork tines.
  • Score the top of the pie with several cuts, so steam can escape.


For a pre-baked crust:
  • Place flour, salt and sugar into a food processor and pulse to mix. 
  • Add butter and pulse, about 10 times. The consistency should be coarse with pea-sized bits of butter remaining.
  • Add ice cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse the mixture until dough begins to stick together.
  • Remove dough and place on clean surface. Knead dough a few times to flatten the remaining butter bits into the dough better. This step makes the crust flaky. 
  • Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Sprinkle with flour lightly and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours to make the dough stiffer and easier to manipulate. Dough should be used within 2 days of mixing. 
  • When you are ready to bake your pie, remove the crust from the refrigerator. Let dough sit for about 15 minutes to start to soften and make it easier to roll out. 
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough with a rolling pin. Shape dough while rolling in to a 12 inch circle. Make sure the dough is not sticking to the surface when you are rolling it out. If need be, you can sprinkle the surface with more flour. 
  • Place rolled out dough into a 9 inch pie pan. Press dough down into the pan and along the sides. Trim any overhanging edges of the dough with a kitchen scissors.
  • Freeze crust for at least 30 minutes, so the crust will not slip down sides of the pan during baking. 
  • Preheat oven to 350° F. 
  • Line crust with wax paper or aluminum foil. Fill crust with about 2 cups of dry rice or dry beans. You can use pie weights also for this step. (I just use beans.)
  • Bake crust with weights, rice or beans in place for 20 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes prior to removing the weights and liner. 
  • Poke holes into the bottom of the crust with a fork and bake for another 10 minutes. You may want to add foil to cover the edges if they are getting brown.
  • Allow to cool completely before adding any filling.   

Helpful Tip:
You can freeze the dough for later use right after mixing.

Happy baking! Click for more homemade recipes from Sustainable Blessings.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Preserving Morel Mushrooms

You found them! The elusive prized mushroom known as the... Morel Mushroom. Here is how to keep these prized beauties to enjoy them all year long.


There are a few maintenance things to be done before you enjoy your lucky finds.
  • First things first...If there is any question about the type of mushroom you just picked, do not eat it! Check out my tutorial on how to find Morel Mushrooms.
  • Secondly, be aware that morels contain small amounts of hydrazine toxin that is removed through cooking. Do not eat morel mushrooms raw, ever.
  • And of course be aware the you just picked food from the ground, out in nature. That means not only is there dirt on the morel but there could also be other living things on it as well, like bugs or small slugs. To remove these items from the mushroom simply sprinkle them with salt and then cover with cold water. Place the mushrooms into the refrigerator for about 8 hours or overnight to remove anything unwanted.


On to how to prepare these gems. One of the best and simplest ways to enjoy morels is by gently sauteing them in butter with a little fresh ground pepper and a sprinkling of salt.


Or you could soak the mushrooms in an egg batter and bread them with flour, then fry them up. If you slice the mushroom length wise and then bread and flour, the outline resembles a fish. Another common name for morel mushrooms are dryland fish.

If you are not planning on eating your morels right away you can explore the following preserving ideas:
  • Freezing:
    • The morels can frozen through a method called flash freezing. You can do this by running the mushrooms under cold water or soaking them in a bowl of ice water for a few minutes. Then place them on a cookie sheet or pizza pan and place into a freezer. After the mushrooms are frozen, place them in a labeled container or freezer-safe plastic bag.
  • Drying / Dehydrating: (the method I use most)
    • Drying is the most popular method of long-term storage and are sold this in this fashion commercially. When I dry morels, I like to chop them prior to drying as then they will be recipe ready. 
    • Place mushrooms in a single layer on the dehydrator pans. Set your dehydrator to 130° F for 10-12 hours.
    • Dried morels can be reconstituted by soaking in warm water or milk.
  • Canning:
    • Canning is not recommended because the canning pressure and temperature destroys much of the flavor.
In a post coming soon is a delicious recipe for using your morels.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Gardener Hand Scrub

Your hands can take beating when gardening. This homemade hand scrub can help rejuvenate your hands after a long day of digging in the dirt. This recipe has coconut oil which can amazingly heal your skin. You could also use this recipe on your dry hands in winter or on your feet for a little extra pampering.


Gardener Hand Scrub

Ingredients:

Directions:
  • In a medium bowl, combine sugar and salt. Mix to combine.
  • Add essential oils to sugar mixture. Add olive oil.
  • Melt coconut oil in a microwave dish for 30 - 60 seconds.
  • Pour coconut oil over sugar mixture and stir to combine.
  • Pour sugar scrub mixture into the mason jar.

Need a last minute gift idea?
Tie a ribbon or raffia around the jar. And add the below label to piece of paper. Cut the label to the size of a mason jar lid. Place the label on top of the lid and screw the band in place.

Citrus Garden
Hand Scrub

Use a small amount
in place of soap.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Hummus

I honestly can not get enough of hummus. If I could love a dip, I would be in love with this one. I just don't love paying so much for a ready-made version from the store when you can enjoy the unique flavors and cost-savings of one made at home. This recipe provides both!


Hummus

Ingredients:
  • 1 - 15 ounce can chick peas / garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 cup tahini sauce
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice (or the juice of one lemon)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
Directions:
  • Combine chick peas, tahini sauce, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic into a food processor or blender. 
  • Blend until smooth, about 1 minute.

The above recipe creates a consistency similar to store bought hummus.
To make the hummus smoother, add water, by the tablespoon and re-blend. Repeat until you have the desired consistency.

Yummy in my tummy! Click for more homemade recipes from Sustainable Blessings. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Jalapeño Popper Dip

Do you like jalapeño poppers? This dip blends the hot pepper into a warm and creamy appetizer perfect for your next event. And it's a great way to use any pickled jalapeños or dehydrated jalapeños you may have from your garden.


Jalapeño Popper Dip

Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons dried jalapeños (rehydrate with 1/4 cup water)
    (OR 1/4 cup diced pickled jalapeños)
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 - 8 ounce blocks cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons bread crumbs
Instructions:
  • Combine softened cream cheese and mayo well. Stir in jalapeños, onion and garlic.
  • Spread in an oven-proof baking dish (used a medium sized dish).
  • Sprinkle top of dip with bread crumbs.
  • Bake at 350° F for 20 minutes.
  • Serve warm with crackers or corn chips.

Enjoy!  Click for more homemade recipes from Sustainable Blessings.