Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Menu plan, week of 2011-02-22

Still trying to make this a habit.  So much for 21 days...  And, yeah, my week's starting today (Tuesday) -- it's gonna be that kind of week, I guess.

Tuesday, February 22
DS's pasta dish (whole wheat ziti, corn, tomatoes, some type of beans, onion, garlic, chili powder, arbol chiles and Italian seasoning)
Tossed salad w/ranch dressing made with kefir
Peaches, home-canned in light syrup

Wednesday, February 23
Spicy turmeric chicken
Garlic mashed potatoes
Pickled beets

Thursday, February 24
Salmon, marinated and grilled
Roasted vegetables (potatoes, onions, carrots, butternut squash)
Apple salad

Friday, February 25
Thai noodles with vegetables and peanut sauce (and leftover salmon if available)
Chocolate cake
Kefir ice cream

Saturday, February 26
Chicken and dumplings (from leftover spicy turmeric chicken and home-canned chicken broth)
Apple-carrot salad

Sunday, February 27
Egg salad sandwiches on homemade rye (local rye but NO fennel seeds!)
Harvey House slaw
Sliced apples

Monday, February 28
Greek-style oven fries
Steamed cabbage
Rye bread

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Change of plans - cooperative quilting

Ever have a day where it's like you didn't get the memo?

The quilt block we made at Saturday's fiber guild workshop is an applique block made with Do Sew® and called Really, Really Broken Dishes by Kim Montagnese.   Because of the way you make the block, cut it into quarters and then trade quarters with other quilters before re-assembling, the blocks are integrated, sharing fabrics and pattern though each is made by a different quilter. So the blocks we made Saturday will become the quilt for our expectant member.
Makes more sense to me than combining disparate blocks into a quilt so the embroidered block I made last week is now the center block for a small quilt (about 3x4-feet) which I'm putting together as a baby gift.  With luck I'll even get it done before the baby arrives!

Saturday's Really, Really Broken Dishes block was very easy to make -- circles without fear of piecing curves (I love that part especially!) and is a great way to mix up colors in a modern-looking quilt pattern.  You start with a square of fabric that will serve as the block background.  Sew a piece of Do Sew to the right-side of the piece that will be the largest circle on the background.  Then cut away the Do Sew, being careful not to cut the other circles you're drawn on it.

I've never worked with Do Sew before but can't wait to use it for other sewing.  When you spritz Do Sew with water and then press with a hot iron, the Do Sew draws up just a bit, letting you easily fold the edge under as you press.  No burning your fingertips or resorting to a pin to try to fold over the edge as you press.

The largest circle is sewn to the background (we used sewing machines set for a blind hemstitch but you could also do that part by hand), then the block is flipped over and you carefully cut away the background fabric from within the stitched circle.  This keeps the block from becoming too thick with the multiple layers and also gives you a circle of fabric just a little bigger than you need for the next circle.  So you trade that circle with another block maker and then you each have a new fabric to sew Do Sew to, using a slightly smaller circle pattern drawn out on the Do Sew.  And spritz, press and sew to center of the larger circle on your block.

Follow the same process for one more smaller circle (trading fabric again) and press the completed square.  Then take a deep breath, pull out your rotary cutter or scissors and cut the square into four even quarters.  Trade three of the quarters with other block makers and seam them back together into a square.  Take a look at what you've made and say "Wow! That's pretty neat!"  Because it is.

Here are photos of my block in the making and the photo above is of all the blocks laid out for the final assembly. (My block, after trading off 3 quarters and re-assembling, is in the lower left. Can you spot my other quarters now assembled into other blocks?)

The same designer, Montagnese, also has a block called Really, Really Mended Hearts that I want to try next.  It's a similar block but the appliques are hearts not circles.  Then, instead of dividing in quarters with a vertical and horizontal cut through the square, you make three or maybe four vertical cuts (perhaps even cutting wedge-shapes rather than, say, perfect thirds) and re-assemble.  Trading sections encouraged, when working in a group setting, though you can get the same effect (but probably without the comaraderie) by cutting, sewing and mixing blocks you make all by yourself.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Menu plan, week of 2011-02-14 plus ranch dressing made w/ kefir

We got a bag of produce from my mother this week.  She decided on the spur of the moment to take advantage of the warmer weather and go visit my cousin in Ohio for a week or so.  When I went to help her pack Monday night, we also cleaned out her fridge and I came home with cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and more.  Altered our menu plan a bit but mainly it created a need for some salad dressing -- something we don't use a lot of over the winter.

Monday, February 14
CORD at Mom's

Tuesday, February 15

Tuna loaf
Oven fries (spicy)
Green beans

Wednesday, February 16

Curried chicken thighs
Basmati rice
Tossed salad w/ Ranch dressing made with kefir (recipe below)

Thursday, February 17

Country-style steak w/ potatoes and onions
Harvey House slaw

Friday, February 18

Homemade pizza
Tossed salad

Saturday, February 19
Cheese and black bean quesadillas, topped with lettuce, diced tomatoes and cucumbers
Corn salsa

Orange wedges

Sunday, February 20
Bbq on buns
Pumpkin Seed salad dressing over salad of green peppers, bean sprouts, corn, and sweet onion
Chocolate cake
Kefir ice cream

I can't believe how much I like this kefir made from the grains.  We made ice cream with it this weekend and I've even been drinking a cup of it plain every day.  It's soothing and refreshing at the same time.

And it makes a good ranch dressing -- thick and tangy. Like ranch dressing should taste but rarely does.

Ranch Dressing with Kefir

2 heaping tablespoons dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups mayonnaise
2 cups kefir

Blend mayonnaise and kefir together till smooth.  Add dry ingredients and mix well.  Refrigerate for at least 12 hours before using to allow flavors to blend.  Makes 4 cups.  Recipe can be halved.

Some make-a-mix recipes for ranch dressing call for a thickener such as crushed saltines.  Using kefir keeps the dressing thick yet pourable, without need for any thickener.  Buttermilk or thinned yogurt can be substituted but dressing may be thinner.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Embroidered quilt block

A fellow fiber guild member is expecting a baby this spring.  One of the members suggested we each make a quilt block and she would set them together into a quilt as a baby gift.  The choice of design was left wide open but she plans to use blue fabric to separate the squares in the quilt as the baby is a boy.

Recalling small quilts my grandmother made for my brother and sister when they were small, I immediately knew I wanted to incorporate embroidery into my block.  She had embroidered nursery rhyme characters and farm animals on white blocks then spaced them alternately with solid-colored blocks -- blue for my brother's and yellow for my sister's.  The quilts were like Linus' blanket and went with them everywhere.  Then what was left of the quilts went with me everywhere.  There are only one or two blocks remaining of those quilts.  They were well-loved.

I really like the baby duck fabric, and used a little of it last year for a baby bib, so I pulled it out for this project, too.  Plus, I remembered an old duckling iron-on I came across in a '60s-era Workbasket not too long ago and tried to draw it out on my easel pad.  Hmm.  The little duck was not well-proportioned to say the least.  Fortunately I found the iron-on when I scrounged through the stack I'd culled and didn't have to rely on my rendering.

When I tried to find a white fabric for the embroidered block, they were either too harsh and bright or tended towards a cream instead of white.  Then I found a 100% white cotton pillowcase in my stash that had been washed so it was soft but without wear.  The fabric's slightly heavier than the duckling fabric but that is a good thing as it means it's not as see-through.  Even so, I still pressed the seams away from the embroidered square.

The center square is 6" on all sides.  The duckling fabric is cut for 3" squares.  And the blue fabric, which also came from a pillowcase, is cut as 3x6-inches rectangles.  The finished size should be 12-1/2" square but I allowed for 1/2" seams on my pieces (trimming away the excess as I seamed the blocks) and left the full 1/2" on the outside edges.  I figure that way the block would offer a little ease when fitting all the blocks together -- one can always trim away fabric but when an 1/8" or  so is needed, it can't be added back.

I can't wait to see the other quilt blocks.  The meeting and baby shower are later today.  Nothing like waiting till the last minute...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Baked oatmeal made with blackstrap molasses

DS likes to eat breakfast as soon as he gets up.  DH prefers to wait at least an hour or two.  In hot weather he even wants to get in a few hours working outside while it's still cool then sit down to breakfast at 10 or so.  And I'm somewhere in-between.  So we tend to eat breakfast in shifts.

To keep breakfast quick and easy, I try to keep breakfast staples like sausage-egg burritos and blender oatmeal pancakes on-hand in the freezer.  Eggs are always in the refrigerator thanks to the chickens and ham, sausage and bacon are readily available in the freezer or canned on the pantry shelf.  AJ's Pumpkin Bread or something similar will sneak into the breakfast rotation occasionally.  And there's always hot cereal like oatmeal or rice.

Every so often I make baked oatmeal (aka Amish baked oatmeal) which I think of as a cross between plain oatmeal and a sweet quick bread or bar cookie.  What DS calls the mom-friendly version I make these days (less sweetener and oil) means we can have it more often and without guilt.  It's a not-too-sweet dish with an almost cake-like texture which when eaten for breakfast is usually served warm in a bowl with milk but late afternoon is a good time for a piece eaten out-of-hand and accompanied by a cup of tea or hot chocolate.  I prefer to soak grains whenever possible so I mix this up part way the night before and then add the remaining ingredients the next morning and bake.

Baked Oatmeal with Blackstrap Molasses

6 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups water
1/3 cup kefir, yogurt or whey
1/2 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
1/2 cup applesauce or pumpkin puree (pumpkin is good but will impart a pumpkin flavor)
1/2 cup blackstrap or regular molasses
8-10 large eggs
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup raisins or other dried diced fruit, optional
1/2 cup nuts, optional

12- to 24-hours before you want to bake this, combine oats, water, kefir, oil, applesauce or pumpkin puree and molasses in a large bowl and stir well to mix.  Let sit on the counter, covered with a tea towel, till you're ready to bake.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. and grease a 9x13-inch pan or two 8-inch square pans.  Break eggs into a bowl and stir in cinnamon, vanilla, salt and baking soda.  Then pour this mixture into the soaking oatmeal.  Stir well to break up oatmeal and combine ingredients, adding dried fruit and nuts as you're stirring.  Pour into prepared pan(s) and bake for 30- to 35-minutes till a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

The baked oatmeal will keep in the refrigerator for several days or can be frozen in individual portions. If you prefer a sweeter taste, add 1/4- to 1/2-cup honey with the molasses and you can use regular molasses instead of the stronger-flavored blackstrap molasses if you want.  If using pumpkin puree, add 1 teaspoon each nutmeg and ginger for a light pumpkin pie flavor.  Serve warm covered with milk or at room temperature for eating out-of-hand.

Yield: 12 servings

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Onion and leek seedlings

The onion and leek seeds just sat there in the soil from January 30 to this past Monday (February 7).  Then, Monday night I spotted the first thin spindly shoot popping up.  But only one in each flat!  Tuesday morning it looked like every pocket had at least one seedling showing up and several seedlings were a couple of inches tall already.
Evergreen hardy white bunching onion and King Seig leek seedlings
DH had already set up the lights so I carefully watered everyone and put them under the shoplights yesterday (February 8).  Set the flats on top of empty flats in order to get the little seedlings within 2 inches of the bulbs -- want to make sure they don't stay spindly by stretching too far for the (artificial) sun.  We want strong healthy onion seedlings to transplant outside when it's time.  DH will set up a small table fan in the next few days so it will blow across the flats (on low) and that will help strengthen the shoots, too.

The photos show the two flats DH seeded on the 30th.  He used egg cartons filled with sterile seed-starting medium and set them in the plastic flats we used last year.  They don't hold as much as the little mesh "pots" that came in the flats originally but they're functional and free.  The flats come with clear plastic lids but I've found you have to be careful leaving the lids in place after planting.  The idea of keeping in the moisture may be a good one, but the minute the seeds start to sprout we have to remove the lids or the tall seedlings bump into the "glass ceiling."  And the heavy condensation that can form on the lids sometimes causes fuzzy mold (mildew?) to develop on the once-sterile soil.  So we keep a water-filled misting bottle on the counter beside the seedlings and I just spritz them heavily several times a day.  And sometimes I water them from the bottom, too.  Especially after the seedlings have developed their leaves.  They need lots of water to maintain growth.
Australian brown onion seedlings
The Australian brown onion, bunching onion and leeks came from Southern Exposure. The Southport red globe onion seeds I ordered from Pinetree are on backorder. Hope to get them soon as we're still in the experimental stage with onions for storage and I'd like to try with onions what we can do with potatoes -- plant an early crop for fresh eating and a later (but not too much later) crop for fall storage.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Menu plan, week of 2011-02-07 plus Kefir-Honey dressing for fruit salad

Except for the marshmallows, I've always loved what my mother calls 5-cup salad.  It's made with a cup of each ingredient: pineapple chunks, shredded coconut, mandarin oranges, sour cream and the dreaded marshmallows, usually mini-.  (I like homemade marshmallows and toasted marshmallows but I haven't found a dish yet where I like intact marshmallows as an ingredient.  Weird?  Probably.)

This Kefir-Honey dressing, while it has a touch of orange from the juice, makes a similar salad when tossed with fruit.  If you don't have kefir, see the note following the recipe for suggestions on substituting sour cream or yogurt.  This makes a nice winter fruit salad but is very refreshing in the heat of summer, too.

Kefir-Honey Dressing for fruit salad

1/2 cup kefir (drained to thicken, if you prefer)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon orange juice

In a large bowl, mix kefir, honey and orange juice till smooth.  Add 4 or 5 cups of fresh or drained, canned fruit to the bowl and toss lightly to coat.

I use orange sections (clementines are nice), sliced bananas, grapes (cut in half), pineapple chunks, strawberries, sliced peaches and blueberries, depending on the season.  Mandarin oranges, pineapple and shredded coconut will make a salad similar to 5-cup salad (a southern specialty?) and, if you like nuts, chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds are nice to sprinkle on top.  (But I like nuts with almost everything...)

If you don't have kefir, you may substitute sour cream or a good whole-milk plain or vanilla yogurt. If using low-fat or non-fat yogurt, I'd use half sour cream and half yogurt to keep it rich-tasting. YMMV


Menu planning that's actually written down (and even better, made public) holds me accountable and makes for a smoother week.  And I'm all in favor of the latter, if not always the former.  So here's this week's plan:

Monday, February 7
(Super Bowl party leftovers)
Crackers and cheese spread
Carrots and celery sticks
Chocolate cake

Tuesday, February 8
Chicken roasted with potato and onion wedges
Bean sprout salad w/Outrageous Dressing

Wednesday, February 9
Frittata (eggs, ham and leftover roasted potatoes and onions)
Fruit salad with Kefir-Honey dressing (recipe above)
Rye 5-minute artisan bread

Thursday, February 10
Baja-style fish tacos w/Chipotle White taco sauce (made with kefir instead of sour cream or yogurt)
Shredded cabbage, bean sprouts and onion for topping tacos
Orange sections

Friday, February 11
Chicken sandwiches on rye w/nectarine mustard
Preserved bean sprouts

Saturday, February 12
(Family dinner for 15 -- I'm responsible for cobbler and ice cream...)
Tenderloin and gravy
Mashed potatoes
Green beans
Cole slaw
Macaroni and cheese
Apple salad
Blackberry cobbler
Homemade ice cream

Sunday, February 13
Crockpot tortellini vegetable soup
Apple slices

Monday, February 7, 2011

It's definite

Smokey, the grey silkie bantam, hatched last year is a cockerel.

Determining whether a chick is a pullet or a cockerel can be difficult unless they show specific sex-linked traits like feather barring or color.  Smokey was pretty androgynous for the first 6-months.  Then between Thanksgiving and Christmas, he began to crow.  Good to finally know but bad because we've learned it's rarely a good idea to have two roos in a small flock.

We raise chickens for eggs but we are not vegetarians.  We usually process extra cockerels for the freezer.  Neither DH nor I wanted that to be Smokey's fate, however.  The main reason?  Because he's part of our backyard flock -- more pet than livestock. (For additional reasons, see note at bottom of post.)  So we needed to find a new home for Smokey.

It needed to be a place where he wouldn't be penned with a full-size rooster as that would be potentially worse than here with us where he only had his sire, Badger, to contend with.  We were in luck, tho, as the first person I told about the predicament had a co-worker who might be interested.  Another homeschooling family, they were in the process of adding silkie bantams to their homestead flock and offered Smokey a home with a half-dozen silkie bantam pullets.  They already had a flock of full-size hens but had built a separate coop to house the silkies.  And since silkie bantam roosters are often not as aggressive as full-size roos may be, they were interested in adding a rooster to the bantam flock.

So Smokey moved to his new home last week.   And his new family have promised to provide regular updates on him as he settles in at his new place.  Good luck, Smokey!

(I love a happy ending.)

Note:  More practical reasons for not consigning a silkie bantam to the freezer exist.  He probably won't top 2 pounds in weight and he's still growing, not there yet.  Another reason is that silkies exhibit melanism where dark pigmentation extends into their connective tissue and even bones.  This goes beyond the range of what people call white and dark meat in poultry -- more like a grayish-black or almost purple bruise color.  Not palatable-looking to many of those accustomed to the only offer being "white or dark meat?" when chicken is served. Check out the silkie entry on Wikipedia for more information and photos of prepared dishes.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Making kefir

I've been making kefir with kefir grains for a few weeks now.  I find it very easy to make, less fuss than yogurt, and I've learned I like it plain.  Which came as a big surprise to me!

Previously, I'd had kefir purchased in a bottle and generally fruit-flavored, like strawberry.  Sort of like a thin shake.  Then I found a package of kefir-starter at Cranberry's.  That's a simple process, too, but it's not self-perpetuating.  Each packet made a batch of kefir and I could save a bit to make another batch.  But that only works for a few times.  Then I had to go back to mixing up another packet.  When I ran out of packets in the box, I would have to buy another.  Or switch to using kefir grains.

Switching to the grains made the most sense.  So now I have a small wide-mouthed jar with creamline milk and kefir grains working away all the time.  As soon as a batch of kefir is ready, 36- to 48-hours what with the cooler indoor temps, I strain out the grains and store the liquid in the fridge till I'm ready to use it.  The grains go back in the small jar with another cup or so of creamline milk.   

There are slightly differing views on how to make kefir.  Because the milk's already pasteurized I haven't found it necessary to scald the milk prior to pouring over the grains.  And I don't rinse the grains before plopping them back into the jar with more milk.  Some kefir-makers recommend both those things; others don't.  And some kefir-makers insist on only using raw milk.   If I had raw milk available, I'd use it instead.  As it is, Virginia doesn't allow the sale of raw milk and I don't have dairy animals (yet!) nor a cow share, so I rely on a local creamery's pasteurized milk.

I'm finding that kefir makes an excellent substitute for buttermilk in recipes -- blender oatmeal pancakes are equally good made with kefir, buttermilk or thinned yogurt.  I like kefir as a buttermilk sub in ranch dressing and as a sub for sour cream in our favorite macaroni and cheese recipe.  Makes a good, not-too-sweet, dessert when topping lightly sweetened fruit. Alternatively, the kefir can be sweetened with a teaspoon or so of honey and then poured over fruit or cereal.  It works great for soaking grains prior to bread-baking.  I have yet to try using it as the sole yeast source when making a sourdough-type bread but that's on my list. 

Smoothies made with kefir are great but I have learned that, since it's not quite as thick as the yogurt I previously used, I need to include a frozen banana or something similar so the drink remains thick as we prefer it. If made with kefir and only fresh, non-frozen fruits, it's still tasty but thinner, more like the kefir beverages from the store.  Not what we think of when imagining a thick fruit smoothie sucked up through  a straw or scooped with a spoon. YMMV
Kefir, like yogurt, is supposed to be a good-for-you, easily-digested food.  But it doesn't matter how good something is for me, if I don't like it, it's hard getting it down.  Especially on a regular basis.  So I'm very happy to learn that not only will my kefir grains continue to grow and steadily produce kefir into the future with just the addition of milk, but we like it.  And I even like it plain -- it's refreshing and, this is important, doesn't greatly remind me of cultured buttermilk.  An irrational fear I've had ever since I bought the first bottle of flavored kefir years ago.