Saturday, February 28, 2015

It is the weekend!

It is the weekend and the weather channel is predicting highs in the 20s and some sun for both today and tomorrow but so far it is sunny but not warm so my outdoor activities will wait and I will spend the first part of my morning with this
and this
My mom bought me a  french press and this is her 'maiden voyage' if you will.  It is the first time that I have used it.  Are you a coffee fan?  I am.  I drink hot coffee and iced coffee.  I am kind of old school in my coffee making.  I don't have a Keurig. I don't even have a Mr. Coffee.  Do they still make Mr Coffees?  Am I  the only one old enough to remember Mr. Coffee?

I used to have a Gevalia coffee maker but when that died I replaced it with a plastic thingy that sits on a cup and holds a paper filter and when you pour heated water into it it drip brews right into your cup.  Worked fine for me, making one cup at a time. 

Then I discovered coffee concentrate.  This was an internet sensation a couple of years back with lots of people posting about it and some discussion about who actually invented it.  I read about it on Pioneer Woman's blog.  I think that was before she had a show on food network.  Anyway coffee concentrate is made by soaking coffee grounds in cold water overnight and then filtering it and storing it in the fridge.  The concentrated coffee is then diluted with more water and either heated for hot coffee or my favorite, mixed with cream and sugar as iced coffee.  The advantages of cold brewing coffee is that you are supposed to get a better tasting product with less acidity.  And it worked great, it just required a little planning ahead if you didn't already have a supply sitting in your fridge.

I have been drinking way too much of the iced coffee and looking for a healthier option I have gone back to hot coffee.  I still have an iced coffee as a treat but for as long as I can hold out it is not my go-to choice.   

I remember Tyler Florence talking in one of his shows about the best coffee is made in a French press.  I searched a bit for the video but was not able to find it.  It seems to me it was a breakfast/brunch themed show.  If I find it I will add the link below.   If is fun to be able to see if he is correct.

My coffee is done.  It is tasting great.  I opted for a big cup instead of the cute ones that came with the French press set.  And a breakfast cookie.  This is one that was suggested by Nikole and is pretty tasty.  No flour, no sugar, full of healthy stuff like peanut butter and oats and craisins and raisins and apple butter.

And then while I leisurely enjoy my coffee and cookie I will be reading about crop rotation and working on my garden plan.


Pioneer Woman's Perfect Iced Coffee is here.
When looking for the video link for Tyler Florence  I found this recipe.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

a little progress on the to-do list

Back on January 19 I created a list of goals for the garden.  You can see the list here.  I am pleased to report a little progress on a couple of the items on the list. 

On the weekend we had a bit of sun and some warmth so it was a good day to work outside.  I always like to reuse items if I can and last year Nikole and Brad shared some fencing that they had purchased for their yard hoping to deter their large number of bunny visitors to their garden.  They did not feel that the wire was successful and brought their excess to the farm.  There was a lot of fencing and last year I cut a bunch of it to make a trellis for the pole beans and a second one for the peas.  I used some of it to make a few tomato cages from this plan.  I wanted to see if I liked them and if they worked as well as advertized (they did) I would make more.  I also had spotted a couple of wooden rectangles constructed of 2z4s in the machine shed that at one time had belonged to my dad and he was willing to share so I topped each of the frames with fencing to make racks for curing/drying vegetables after harvest.  This was not on the to-do list and would not be needed until harvest but since they required a bigger section of the fencing it made since to cut those bigger pieces first and then the smaller pieces for the tomatoes from what was left.  I was able to get fencing cut and attached to the 2x2 posts to make six tomato stakes.  I have a bunch more to do but was glad to have gotten a start.  The next warm day I hope to knock out a few more. 

Also on the list were several items in the greenhouse. I am always looking to make better use of the limited growing space in the greenhouse.  Note to anyone thinking of building a winter growing space: if you can, build it bigger than you think you want!  Back in December I added a shelf for germinating seeds.  I was able to find a coated wire shelf at Menards that fit my seedling heat mat and mounted it on the wall.  This freed up table space for another couple of tubs of lettuces.  Not long after that Caitlin and I were back at Menards and bought 10 metal L shaped shelf brackets to put on the East and West end walls for more shelving.  This shelving would hold flats of seedlings that come off the heat mat and trays of shoots and cresses that are grown right in the black trays.  I put up four of the brackets and scrounged up two 48 inch long pieces of plywood for two four foot long shelves on the west wall.  For a few days the boards rested on top of the shelf brackets without being fastened as I wanted to make sure that I had it right before committing to it permanently.  I was kind of glad that I waited to fasten as I decided that I would put longer boards and more brackets onthe west wall and move the shorter boards to the east wall. I left that arrangement for a couple of days to make sure that it was right and then fastened it all down.  Number of square feet of growing space added: east wall 8, west wall 16.

east wall

west wall
I did something similar to create suspended shelves over the row of tables in the center of the room.  I wanted a way to use the space above the tables without too much shading of the plants on the tables.  I picked up a couple of coated wire shelves and temporarily hung them with bale twine to see if I liked it.  Once I determined that it would work we purchased more shelving and used hardware and chain that dad had to permanently hang the shelves.  Number of square feet of growing space added above tables: 20.
temporary suspended shelves
new chain supports replace the twine

I am thinking that those spaces will become vital once we get started with growing the summer transplants.

Right now I start my winter greens seeds in the greenhouse but I am starting my tender summer plants in the house where the temperature is consistently warm.  When I have guessed that we are done with below zero temps I will move the seed starting out to the greenhouse but for now, when it drops to way below zero even with supplemental heat it still may drop down to 25° in the greenhouse overnight.  25° degrees is tolerated by the greens but most of the others would be goners.  It is kind of early yet for starting most things but the asparagus seedlings are up and flourishing.  On my to-do list is an item to plant the remaining asparagus.  I am planning four 16 foot long rows of asparagus in my big garden. One went in two years ago and another two went in last year and the last will go in this spring.  We have started all of our asparagus from seed and had good success. 
asparagus seedlings
 Because the asparagus seed packet did not fill my tray I planted some herbs thinking that even though it was too early to start seeds for transplant to the outdoor garden these could be potted up as houseplants until spring.  So I planted some of two kinds of basil, some sage and some thyme.  Below is a basil seedling.  It is so darn cute but also pretty amazing.  It is less than two inches tall and has four leaves but even when it was only two leaves it already had that wonderful basil aroma.  One little whiff has me dreaming of caprese with homemade mozzarella and ripened-on-the-vine-and-warm-from-the-garden tomatoes.
baby basil plant
Think spring!


homemade cheese part 3-gjetost

Gjetost is a Norwegian cheese that is made from whey.  It it cooked slowly until it is reduced in volume and caramelized and almost fudge-like.  I have never heard of this cheese but it was discussed in a website comment and since I have the whey I decided to give it a try.  . I actually made this cheese and took the photos the next day after I made the ricotta.  It was an interesting process.  It took longer to reduce down and get thick than the recipe suggested it would so my simmer must have been lower.  It did eventually get thick and caramel colored.  It had a interesting flavor.
in the pan, starting to darken

transferred to a bowl

spread on a triscuit
 Source of original recipe is here

Monday, February 2, 2015

hamemade cheese part 2-ricotta

On the weekend my daughter Nikole and I made homemade mozzarella cheese from the kit that was part of my Christmas present from her and Brad.  So after we finished with our mozzarella cheese we saved our whey.  I remembered reading somewhere about how many beneficial things that could be done with whey and I found a website that described making ricotta from the leftover whey.  While I was reading through the comments I found another commenter talked about using the whey leftover from the ricotta to make a third cheese.  I decided to make the ricotta and then tomorrow I will make the third cheese since that one needs to simmer for hours and I will start it in the morning and have all day. 

Making ricotta was described as foolproof and it certainly was easy.  The whey that we saved was heated to a boil, allowed to cool a bit (to below 140°)  and then strained to separate the very tiny curds from the whey.  That is it.  No special watching the thermometer, nothing to add to it.  It was very easy.  It did not make a lot of cheese but it was easy and fun. 

here is the whey in my large kettle

boiling whey
 The directions suggested straining the cheese in a coffee filter which is what I started with but it was very, very slow so I switched to cheesecloth and that went much more quickly. 
straining in a coffee filter

switched to cheesecloth
 When most of the whey had flowed through the cheesecloth I gathered up the corners and suspended it in the air and allowed for a bit more whey to be released from the curds.
suspending the cloth to drain more whey
While the ball of curds were suspended I did gently squeeze the cheesecloth to remove even more whey.   This is the ball of ricotta curds in the cheesecloth.
ricotta curds
 This is the bowl of my stand mixer that I used to catch the whey from the ricotta.  Still a large amount of whey left over. 
whey from the ricotta
 This is the ricotta.  It filled my 1/2 cup measure perfectly.

Source: original recipe can be found here.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

homemade cheese-mozzarella

At Christmas Nikole and Brad gave me a cheese making kit. It came is a cute box that held instructions, three rennet tablets and two little bags, one with citric acid and one with cheese salt.  It also contained a thermometer and some cheese cloth. 
The only ingredient not provide in the kit in order to make a batch of homemade mozzarella was a gallon of whole milk. There is enough of the kit ingredients to make 10 batches.  A gallon of milk will make one pound of cheese.  

The whole process went pretty quickly.  First we put all of the equipment we would be using in boiling water to sterilize.  We used a stainless kettle for sterilizing and for the actual cheese making as cast iron and aluminum are reactive and not recommended.   The rennet tablet was cut into quarters and one quarter was dissolved in water.  The citric acid was also dissolved in water.  The gallon of milk was placed in the pan and we followed the instructions, adding the two dissolved ingredients when instructed and heating the mixture to the correct temperature.

The milk starts to form curds and then the curds are separated from the whey.  The curds are microwaved to further raise the temperature and remove any additional whey.  Then the salt is added.  Our final cheese: 

We ate our cheese on homemade baguette slices that we dipped first in basil infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  It was very tasty.  It will be great this summer with tomatoes and basil from the garden as insalata caprese or bruschetta.  I cannot wait.    .