Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Of Squash

Those of you who have successfully grown zucchini before will sympathize with this problem: here is our zucchini harvest for the week (minus those that have been eaten, which is a lot!). We are bringing in about 7-10 zucchini every other day! All from 1 (1!!!) plant. Well actually the little round ball zucchinis are from two other plants, obviously. I really shouldn't call it a problem, it's an enormous blessing! In an emergency we surely wouldn't starve, provided that the water keeps running during said emergency.

I was warned of such problems/blessings by many people, but I still went ahead and planted many zucchini and summer squash plants, 8 have survived. Only three are producing, the others are either in the baby stage or the teenager stage. My father in law asked why I planted so many and here is the answer: there are so many different kinds! Who could ever choose just one. Also, I don't mind giving away squash and I have come up with quite a few uses for it. That's what this post is about, how to use up all of that zucchini. If you are in doubt over any of these recipes my father in law, who HATES squash, has eaten and loved several of them. And he wouldn't lie to me:)

#1 Zucchini Bread. I'm not typing out a recipe for this, mostly because the recipe I use is a mediocre one. Pull out your betty crocker cook book and use that or if you've got a better recipe please share! Zucchini bread recipes also make zucchini muffins, which are easier for little hands to hold.

#2 Zucchini Scrambled Eggs or Omlette. Sautee shredded zukes in a little olive oil and stir in eggs, or if your making the omlette put sauteed zukes in middle of omlette and fold. Not the prettiest thing, but it's sure tasty!

#3 Shredded fresh for salad. Shred it and toss it into a salad. SO good!

#4 Shredded and sauteed with other veg as a side dish. If you don't have a mandolin slicer and grow a lot of zucchini, invest in the slicer. It is also known as a Chinese Mandolin, but everyone is using that name less and less in this politically correct day and age. Anyway, my mandolin slicer also comes with a julienne blade. If you don't have a mandolin you could julienne by hand. Julienne carrots, zucchini and yellow squash. Sautee the carrots in some butter or olive oil until they start to soften, add squashes, sautee until the green on the zucchini brightens. Season and enjoy.

#5 Barbara Kingsolver To The Rescue. In her WONDERFUL (if a little bit preachy) book, Animal Vegetable Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver lists a few recipes for using up a zucchini harvest. Recipes include, Zucchini Orzo (we eat this A LOT at our house this time of year), and Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies. You may be skeptical of the cookies but they're pretty good. You can check out these recipes at

#6 Gnocchi (or pasta) With Summer Vegetables. Also a good way to use up a tomato and garlic harvest. Quarter and slice two medium zucchini or summer squash. Sautee in olive oil with two cloves minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper, add two cups grape tomatoes sliced in half. Cook until it all makes a juicy sauce. Toss in 15-16 ounces cooked gnocchi or pasta of any shape. Stir in a quarter cup fresh basil, chopped, some parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon butter, and two tablespoons lemon juice.

#7 Add To Pizza. Using your new, handy mandolin slicer, thinly slice several zucchini. Briefly steam them and add them to your pizza like pepperoni. Even the FIL liked this one.

#8 Veggie Lover's Pasta Bake. EVERYONE loves this dish. Sautee two sliced zucchinis in olive oil, add a package of frozen spinach and sautee until most of the liquid is evaporated. Add a jar of marinara sauce, a jar of alfredo sauce and a cup of shredded mozarella (I usually leave out this addition of cheese). Stir in 16 ounces cooked penne. Pour it all into a 9 by 13 baking dish and sprinkle on more mozarella, bake until the cheese is melted and it's all good and bubbly. Seriously this is sooo good.

#9 Chicken Taco Filling. For the chicken portion of this throw 4 frozen chicken breasts, a package of taco seasoning and two cups water into the crockpot, let it simmer, shred it and let it simmer a little longer to soak up some juices. This is good as taco filling all by itself, but that doesn't use up zucchini, does it? Shout out to Siobhan for the crockpot chicken recipe:) THANKS! If you don't want to make the chicken filling yourself you can buy it at most big grocery stores next to the packaged pulled pork. In a pan sautee quartered and sliced zucchini and/or summer squash. Add a bag of frozen black bean, corn, onion, green pepper mixture (I forget what this is called). Cook until the black bean stuff is thawed. Stir in the chicken, heat it all up and serve in warmed flour tortillas, with sour cream and whatever other accoutrements you choose.

#10 Whatever. Zucchini has such a subtle flavor that it can be added to almost anything, soup, pasta, taco filling:) Once you start looking for places to use zucchini you'll find them. More veg never hurt anyone.

#11 Give It Away. It's good karma and the garden gods will surely bless you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Yogurt Making Made Easy

This post goes out to the Damsel at The Damsel has a post about making yogurt from powdered milk, if that interests you check it out. I made yogurt from fresh milk using the same method. Before reading her post I was using the crockpot to make yogurt, which works but takes a bit more effort. Want to make your own yogurt? It's so easy!

First you will need some starter cultures, the wonderful little bacteria bugs that make yogurt yogurt. You can either purchase cultures and have them mailed to you or you can use yogurt from the store -much easier. Here are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing your starter yogurt, while not all of them are absolutely necessary they're good ideas. Try to find a yogurt with as few ingredients as possible. The yogurt should be plain, and without pectin. It absolutely MUST contain active live cultures -duh- most yogurts tout this on the label these days so it should be easy to find. Remember that the cultures in your starter yogurt will be the cultures in your homemade yogurt so if you want something specific -I'm looking at you activia consumers- buy accordingly. I've read that stoneyfield farms yogurt is highly reccommended as a starter.

Here's what you do, in clean, ovensafe crockery (I actually used the crock from my crockpot) combine 6 ounces of starter yogurt with 4 cups of milk. Whisk well. Heat your oven to 275 degrees. Once the oven has reached 275 degrees turn it off and place your covered yogurt-to-be inside. Let it sit for 8 to 12 hours. When you return it should be yogurt! Admittedly it will not be quite as firm as store bought yogurt, that's because it doesn't have pectin in it. Store it in the fridge and enjoy it in good health. Remember to save 6 ounces as a starter for the next batch. Look at you making your own food:)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cheese Making

Here is a picture of my very enthusiastic friend Nikol, holding a cheese making book. Can you guess why she's so excited?
Because we made cheese, Yo!
First we read the instructions. They were awesome, if not completely forthcoming -more on this later-- notice the almost completely non-sequiter goat in cap and gown. It made my year.
Next we had to heat the milk to 90 degrees. (Was it 90 degrees? I can't remember, anyway...) That's my hand giving the thumbs up, I helped, in my own way. --methinks someone should have cut her nails before cheesemaking night. That's not right.
The milk started to curdle. We got very excited.
It continued curdling...
...and our anticipation and excitement grew with each passing moment.
Then it started to look -and smell- like vomit and we became slightly less enthusiastic. But we remained undeterred!
We separated the curd from the whey. The cheese's likeness to vomit continued, on a thicker level. My good friend Siobhan considered saving the whey for pizza dough (who knew?) but ultimately she poured it down the drain, we didn't fight her on it.
Ingrid was skeptical that the cheese would turn out.
After heating the curd in the microwave to an unholy temperature it had to be pulled and coerced into cheeselike form. The instructions recommended wearing rubber gloves. The cheesemaking kit included latex gloves. We used them, despite our misgivings that they might give the cheese an unpalatable flavor. Rookie mistake.
We continued pulling the cheese, unwittingly...
It was starting to look cheesy.
We formed it into logs and chilled it.
The cheese worked out! Even Ingrid couldn't deny it.
But I'll be honest, and tell you, it did not taste good. Our downfall was the latex gloves. Next time we'll be sure to use utensils to pull the lava cheese. The other girls were champs and ate all of their cheese. I couldn't stomach it. Wimp.

Some of us had a little too much fun making cheese.

Big Worm Bin, Little Victories

Here's some good news: it hasn't even been two months since I established my first worm bin and I've already expanded to a second. That's right, the worms quickly multiplied so today I set up a second -and larger- worm bin. The parents have been giving us their compostables to feed the worms so we are blessed with a plethora of kitchen wastes. Which means, ultimately, a plethora of compost! I harvested the worm castings a few days ago, there was a LOT! And already both bins are full again. One of my favorite parts of this story is that we didn't have to buy more worms. They were just there for the taking. Simple pleasures. Although now that I think about it, at this rate, we could become overrun with worm bins by the end of the year. There are worse things. Most likely I'll be able to start giving worms away to friends...I've already got several in mind. You know who you are, and you've been warned.

Our little homestead is running great these days. I spent most of monday and tuesday in the kitchen baking things for family birthday parties (we have quite a few birthdays this time of year). I also made yogurt, which I then made into yogurt cheese. Jonas and I have been spreading it on crackers for morning snack. Correction, I usually do the spreading, he eats it at his leisure. And on top of the yogurt cheese I made bread, rolls, and started a jar of sprouts to be used on friday.

I've been making our bread for well over a year. I just can't believe that! We haven't bought store bread in a YEAR! How time does fly. When I first told one of my family members that I was going to attempt to make all of our bread she cautioned me --be careful, it's hard. And it was a bit trying at first, we suffered through a lot of not-so-good bread. But now, it's almost second nature, part of the routine. I'm bringing this all up because it correlates to the yogurt thing. Why have I started making yogurt? Because the guys that haul our recycling away have announced that they now only accept #1 and #2 plastics. Yogurt containers are #5. We eat quite a bit of yogurt, especially Jonas. It pained me to put those containers in the trash. So I started making our own. I had thought about doing it for awhile but this recycling thing really gave me the kick I needed. The first batch of yogurt didn't go so well. Then I talked to my friend Nikol -hi bff!- who had made yogurt before and she recommended using a crockpot to keep it at an even temp while fermenting. Brilliant! Now the yogurt making is a breeze. Hopefully a year from now I can come onto the blog and write about how I've been making all of our yogurt for a year. Small steps. It makes me feel great that I know what my family is eating. I know exactly what is in that yogurt and bread. In a dream world I would know the cow/goat that the milk for the yogurt came from, and grow the wheat for the bread myself. Again, small steps.

Wondering how you yourself can make your own yogurt? That's coming up in a post next week. I'm waiting until the next time I make it, so the post will have lots of lovely pictures to go with.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Not Quite What I Was Planning

First, some pictures:
The sunberries, which have take off! They have outgrown their allotted space...and then some.

One of the rows of green beans, with a little fennel at the very end.

A row of hot and sweet peppers I planted, including, red marconi, better belle, tequila sunrise, jalapeno, chocolate beauty and pasilla bajio. We obviously have been using a lot of shredded junk mail and newspaper to mulch and keep the weeds down. My sister and her boyfriend Ben came for a visit on memorial day and Ben, looking into the backyard said to me: Uh, someone dumped a bunch of trash in your yard.

Here's what the trifle tomatoes look like these days.

A handful of sunberries, taken several days ago.

The title of this post is stolen from the six word memoirs book. But it seems very appropriate, as, the garden this year has turned out to be something entirely different from what I planned. Isn't that always how it goes?

The Edamame still hasn't come up, and I've given up on it. Maybe I'll try again next year, or possibly even later in the season, if the mood strikes me.
I have fallen in love with the volunteer plants. Particularly the zucchini, MY it is a large plant!

The self waterers, which had my heart at the beginning, have become quite the disappointment. Many of the tomatoes in self waterers have seemingly incurable blossom end rot, and the plants just can't handle heat well at all. On the other hand, I think all of the slaving I have done over the ground soil is finally paying off. There's one tomato plant inparticular -a red pear- that has out grown the self waterers. It's SO vibrant, and hardly ever needs watering. While I still hold a place in my heart for the self waterers, I think I'm going to use them for smaller things like green beans, and basil next year. Here's a picture of some tomatoes on the wonderful red pear!

June is here already, and we are beginning to enjoy the fruits of our labor here at our house. pear and jellybean tomatoes are ripening here and there. I seem to forget, every year, just how much better a homegrown tomato is compared to store bought. The brambles are ripening also, at the rate of a berry a day. Jonas, upon eating his first raspberry promptly picked and ate all of the remaining (and unripe!) berries on the plant. And here I thought I'd be fighting off the birds, apparently the problem comes in a form closer to home.
The sunberries are coming on strong as the weather heats up. We're picking a good size handful every day. Jonas eats them faster than I can pick them most days. Today while picking sunberries A RAT ran out from the bushes. I was thoroughly disgusted and quit the berry picking for the day. I guess this means the rats from last year have returned. Isn't that just wonderful. Now we're just waiting for the japanese beetles to arrive and then the vexations will be complete...hopefully.

Oh! And I also harvested the garlic today! I kept thinking it was too early, that I had to wait until june...then it dawned on me, um, it's june! So I pulled it up and learned a valuable lesson, the the size of the stalk does not in any way correlate to how big the garlic head will be. Some of the wispiest stalks produced the biggest heads. Go figure.

Though the garden hasn't sprung up exactly as I mapped it out it is still a thing of beauty to me. It fills me with glee to think that by this time next month I'll be up to my neck in tomatoes. Canning season is just around the corner. It'll be keeping me extra busy this year as I have been put in charge of the parent's apricot harvest. Greg's mom will be in Europe for a month, and therefore unable to jam. And despite Jonas picking the green apricots off of the tree, the harvest will still be sizeable.