Typical August Weekend Out In The Country

We’ve only lived in Casa de Caribou 2.0 for about 5 months, but the grounds are already being cultivated into useful, productive, pretty land. Here’s my progress from the last few days, as an example of what late summer looks like for a Midwest gardener and foodie.

Harvested:

  • Bush beans (large basket of purple, green and yellow beans, worked out to be 4 pints when canned)
  • 4 cups Moby Grapes, yum. Best snack ever and also makes a surprisingly good pasta sauce, if you have patience to blanch/peel them.
  • 6 Short stubby wonderfully fat carrots
  • Green Onions (2, just for garnishes)
  • 4 cups VERY fat ripe raspberries
  • I’d picked almost a quarter bushel of tomatoes on Thursday and was waiting for them to fully ripen. They were ripe by Saturday, so I canned 10 pints.

Side Projects:

  • Gathered 8 big sprigs of Sweet Woodruff to share with a friend at work who wants to learn how to make May Wine. If you want to learn how to make it too, here’s a quite pleasant article from one of my favorite food bloggers.
  • Cleaned up the carrot tops, discarding the long hard stem and just keeping the feathery green bits. Scissors make this easy. Now they are in a basket to dry, and then I will crunch them up and store in a glass spice jar. They make a fun substitute for parsley.
  • I saved aside a big handful of oversized beans from my harvest. These are too rubbery and tough to be enjoyable, but can be split open to get at the beans inside. These can be simmered for about 30 minutes and served as a wee side dish. I say wee because it takes a lot of tough old beans to add up, but it’s a way not to waste them.
  • I’d cut all the flowers off my garlic chives early in the week, since they can spread like wildfire if you let them go to seed. For fun I stuck them in a green glass vase with some water, where they all bloomed spectacularly. Saturday I snipped the flowers from the hard stems and set them in a wicker basket to dry. Another goodie to chop up and store in a spice jar. They taste very peppery and a bit garlicky.
  • Since I’m planning to sautee salmon for Sunday dinner, I whipped up a sauce of avocado mayonnaise, small touch of mustard, cracked pepper, touch of sea salt, and a generous amount of dried Mexican Tarragon. Tarragon goes so nicely with salmon! So that’s all ready and blending flavors, for later tonight. I won’t cook it on the fish, just will have it as a side dip. Mmmm.

Today I’m thinking about starting a double batch of chamomile wine, as long as I have the huge canning pot upstairs. It does double duty. And I may simmer up a small batch of what I’ve named “Moby’s Pick” spiced tomato sauce, for later in the week.

Next, the focus needs to be on clearing out encroaching weeds and volunteer saplings in the large raspberry patch, researching how to tame back the purple grape vines without harming them, edging back the grass from the bark in our curved beds surrounding the house, and pulling weeds. This place is weed heaven, they grow FAR too happily here. More mulch is needed soon to help squish them!

And somewhere in between all this yard and kitchen work, I am shoehorning in tiny bursts of editing and writing, because books simply don’t publish themselves, darn it!

Sweet and Sourdough

I love my sourdough starter. I’ve been maintaining it for a couple of decades now. Even when I neglect it, old Beastie always springs back to life when I pull him from the back of the refrigerator. He makes a nice, light, white sourdough loaf, fantastic waffles, and really good pancakes.

But today I put Beastie to the test on breakfast pastries! After setting up a batter of flour, hot water, sourdough starter, and salt last night, I woke up to a really bouncy batter, one of the best I’ve seen. It wasn’t sticky, it held a lot of air and fluffiness. And to be honest, when I mixed up the batter last night, I really didn’t have a plan for it. I simply liked the notion of a sourdough batter rising for a Saturday morning.

And so randomly, I decided to make bite-sized pastries. I made three kinds. Little rounds like donut holes, slathered in sugar, cinnamon and honey, twisty tied dough drowning in apricot jam, and cookie-like sweets imbedded with pecans.

It’s fun to make pastries in minature. These are each only about two inches across, or less.

My technique, if you could call my random style of baking any sort of technique, was to use a mix of cinnamon laced brown sugar and white sugar at every stage where you would normally throw down a layer of flour to work your dough against. No flour. All sugar and cinnamon. I also liberally coated the cookie sheets and mini muffin pans with butter. Loooooots of butter. And as the treats settled in for their second rise, I kept splashing them with more sugar, honey, cinnamon, butter… basically I just let my natural inclination towards no-self-control take over.

Then all the goodies were baked at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Mmm. I liked this experiment! Especially the pecan sorta-cookies. Perfect texture and flavors on that one. I’ll make those again.

I had enough leftover dough to knead into a small loaf, containing three types of cheese, oregano, celery seed, lots of cracked pepper and a good coating of olive oil. This will rise another hour, and then get baked. It will be enjoyed with a roasted salsa made of halved cherry tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers. This will accompany marinated, sauteed pork chops later this evening.

Saturdays in the kitchen are fun!

 

 

Potato Salad My Way

This is my favorite way to make potato salad. I know I break the rules by dicing the potatoes before cooking them, but really, why should I mangle a soft, warm, potato when I can get that step cleanly done before the cooking? It makes more sense to me.  Be sure to read through the entire recipe before starting, so you can gather together your ingredients and equipment.  Hope you like this!

PREPARING THE POTATOES

Large Pot of Boiling, Salted Water
6 large Russet Potatoes, more or less
1/4 Cup Pickle Juice

Peel all the potatoes and dice into half inch squares. Put diced potatoes into boiling water. Boil for five minutes and then start checking them with a fork to know when they are getting tender all the way through. Don’t overcook. Empty the water and potatoes from the pot into a large colander set in the sink and let the potatoes drain and cool down.

When potatoes have stopped steaming and are just warm, pour them into a very large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the pickle juice over the hot potatoes. The juice will be completely absorbed by the potatoes and add flavor from inside. You can add more juice if you really love pickle flavor.

MAKING THE DRESSING

In a separate bowl, stir together:

2-1/2 Cups Mayonnaise (My favorite is made with avocado oil but any mayo will work)
3 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Yellow Mustard (or spicy brown if you prefer)
2 Tbsp White Granulated Sugar
1/2 Tsp Celery Seed
Salt and Pepper to Taste

ADDING CRUNCH AND FLAVOR

1 Large Celery Rib, finely diced
1/2 Can Black Olives, drained and chopped
1 Cup Pickles, any type you like, drained and chopped (I like bread and butter pickles)
1/2 Cup White Onion, finely diced
2 Cloves Garlic, VERY finely diced or juiced

These are the additions I like – you may enjoy adding other goodies, or leaving some of my suggestions out. Nothing is carved in stone here.  Other common ingredients include green onion, green olives, pimentos, purple onions, shredded cheese, crumbled bacon, chopped arugula, and fresh green peas.  I’ve daydreamed about mixing in lumps of lobster and I just might do that someday when I can. Add whatever you like!

ASSEMBLING THE SALAD

Have ready in another bowl:
5 Hard Boiled, Peeled, Chopped Eggs (about this consistency)

First, start folding the dressing/additions mixture into the cooked potatoes. When it’s all about halfway blended, start folding in the diced eggs. Don’t stir – just gently lift the potatoes with a really large spoon or spatula, and move them around to distribute the dressing, additions and eggs evenly. Do not over mix. You want the potato squares to hold their shape.

FINISHING TOUCHES

Hungarian Paprika

Smooth out the potato salad and clean the inside edge of the bowl with a paper towel to neaten the look, then dash paprika over the top – don’t coat the salad with it, just keep it light enough to add color.

Caribou Country Chamomile Wine

Making your own wine at home can be either intimidating or lots of fun. I like to make wine and I like to have fun. Most of the recipes and instructions on the internet are intimidating AND confusing.  And they try to convince you everything has to be perfect, and you have to use that floating thermometer thingydoodle to get your alcohol level just right.  Here’s a secret. I can’t get my floating thermometer thingydoodle to even float, not even a little, it just drops like an ironclad and doesn’t tell me anything useful. *whispers* So I stopped using it completely.

What follows is how I make wine. I break lots of rules, but if you don’t try to bottle it up too soon, just let everything age nice and slow, you won’t have an incident in the middle of the night where multiple corks explode out of bottles and wine flows across your nice kitchen floor in fanciful effervescent waterfalls.

Not that I know anything about that. Er, it happened to a friend once. Yeah, that’s what happened. Anyway. NO CORKING TILL IT’S DONE BOUNCING AROUND, YOU GOT THAT?  It’s no fun mopping up a foamy boozy mess, plus you have the sadness of less wine to drink later.  Again – happened to a friend, I’m just remembering the story. As far as you know.

For the brave and foolish fun lovers out there, here’s my favorite wine recipe. I grow and dry my own German chamomile flowers, and always have heaps more than I need for tea. The German variety of the flower is very sweet and fragrant and makes a yummy wine!

Have fun, and remember what I said about corks and explosions. Patience, grasshopper.

Caribou Country Chamomile Wine

18 cups water
4 cups white granulated sugar

1/4 cup dried chamomile flowers

3 tsp acid blend
1 tsp yeast nutrient
1/8 tsp tannin
1 crushed Campden tablet

1 packet Montrachet wine yeast

Mix sugar and water in a really big pot (I use my small hot water bath canner) and bring to boil, stirring frequently to dissolve. Put chamomile flowers in a doubled square of cheesecloth and tie closed. Put the bag of flowers into the primary (the ‘primary’ is wine-speak for a large, very clean rigid plastic bucket with a fitted lid, designed specifically for winemaking).

When the sugar is dissolved and the water comes to boil, pour the sugar water into the primary, over the bag of chamomile flowers. Drip drain the flower bag several times to allow the flavor to seep into the water. Taste. If flavor is not strong enough, make another bag of flowers and toss it in. Cover the primary with its vented lid and let the mixture cool down to room temperature.

While you wait, you can measure out the acid blend, yeast nutrient, tannin and crush up a Campden tablet, blending it all together in a small dish. When the mixture in the primary has cooled to room temperature, dump all the science-y stuff in the small dish into the mixture, then stir till all is dissolved.

Every few hours gently squeeze the flower bag(s) to continue extracting their flavor. After 24 hours, remove the flower bags and discard them, then add the packet of Montrachet wine yeast. Cover the primary, and stir the mixture daily for a week.

wiggle-cork-of-science
Behold the Wiggle Airlock Of Science, set atop a 5-gallon glass jug filled with new, still yeast-laden chamomile wine. It will slowly clear and the yeast will fall to the bottom, yay!

In about a week, or up to two weeks if you forget all about your gurgling bucket of fragrant boozy yeasty fun, as I often do, pour the wine slowly through a coffee filter set in a strainer set in a plastic pitcher.  Stick a funnel into a 5-gallon glass jug and pour the strained wine into it. You’ll have too much for one jug.  I usually use two and fill each one halfway. Use airlocks to vent the jugs. Ferment for a month. Your wine will probably look really nice and clear and sparkly, with a thick layer of dead yeasty sludge settled on the bottom of the jug.  Yuck. Once more, pour the wine slowly through a coffee filter set in a strainer set in a plastic pitcher and attempt not to rile that yeasty-yuck layer. Leave it behind! Funnel the strained wine into fresh, clean 5-gallon jugs. Filter-strain the wine every 2 months for 6 months (that’s three times for the math impaired like me). Let the wine rest for two weeks after the final straining, then funnel it into bottles and cork (you’ll need a corking machine, which are really fun to use. If you don’t have one, see if you can borrow one for the afternoon.) Lay the corked bottles on their sides and allow them to age in a dark place 6 months before tasting. Will improve with aging for about two years.

Cheers!

The Life Cycle of a Loaf of Bread

 

Bread Basket
Yummy Fresh Bread

Life Stage One: Fresh bread!
It doesn’t matter what type of bread it is, as long as it’s a loaf you love. Around this house, we always have a loaf of classic soft white bread, perfect for peanut butter and jelly sammiches. But I’m also madly in love with dark, hearty, cracked-grain breads, especially when toasted, buttered and heaped with smooshed avocado. That’s my notion of perfection, but I digress. I also enjoy baking sourdough bread. My method is very similar to this: Sourdough Bread from Potato Flake Starter.

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