Archive | July, 2012

The DIY Life: Vanilla Bean Yogurt

30 Jul

Yogurt – one of those foods that are a staple in my house and my eating routine. I’ll occasionally take a break from eating it because like anything you eat with regularity, you get sick of it.  But still, I eat it enough that after thinking about it, it was justified to start making it at home. It doesn’t get much cheaper. I bought a half-gallon of 2% milk from a local dairy, then a single serving container of some plain greek yogurt. The cost for those 2 items? $3.68. That means I ended up with 1/2 gallon of yogurt. yep. I’ve paid more than that for the tubs of yogurt.

This is so simple to do you’ll be kicking yourself for not doing it sooner. You can make as little or as much as you want, but don’t make more than you can consume in 2 weeks time.

You’ll want to use 2 tablespoons of yogurt per quart of milk.

Vanilla Bean Yogurt

1/2 gallon 2% milk

4 tablespoons plain yogurt (I used greek)

1 vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped out

Place your milk in a large pot along with the vanilla bean and the seeds. Whisk to break up the seeds and distribute them throughout the milk. Heat until the milk reaches a temperature of 180-190 degrees. Once it reaches that temp, shut the burner off and move from the heat source. Let the milk cool down to 115 degrees.

In a small bowl, place the 4 tablespoons of yogurt and add some of the cooled milk. Whisk to combine until no lumps form. Add the yogurt/milk mixture to your milk pot and whisk to get everything mingling. Remove the vanilla bean.

Turn your oven on to the warm setting (170 degrees). Once it hits that temp, turn it off.

Fill clean jars with the yogurt mixture and put lids and rings on. It doesn’t matter if you do not have the same amount of liquid in each jar, they will all process/set at the same rate. Place on a cookie sheet and put in the warmed oven. Leave them alone for 8 hours. After 8 hours, remove the jars and place them in the fridge to cool and set up more.

If a thicker yogurt is desired, line a colander placed over a bowl with a clean flour sack cloth (you can find them at Walmart in the dish towel section) or a double layer of cheese cloth. Pour your yogurt into the flour sack/cheese cloth, cover with another towel and place in the fridge overnight for a greek style yogurt. I drained mine for a few hours and ended up with a nice consistency. Be sure to stir it up because the yogurt coming in contact with the towel will be a thicker consistency. Store the thickened yogurt in your containers and enjoy!

That’s it. Very little hands on time and money to get something right from your own kitchen. The taste is a very light vanilla flavor with a good tangy taste. You can add sweetener or vanilla extract if you choose. I added a little bit of agave nectar and it really brought out the vanilla bean flavor!  I think vanilla stevia would be a good addition for some more sweetness and pronounced vanilla flavor too.

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Crock Pot Love: Saucy Cowboy Beans

24 Jul

This recipe is what I think I’d be eating if I was a cowgirl running cattle out in the great wild west. Something the Chuck Wagon chef could have put together with simple ingredients and cooked over an open fire all day in a cast iron pot while everyone was ropin’ and ridin’. Served up with some biscuits or corn bread. Maybe a chunk of beef! Yum. And so the cowboy bean recipe was born. It’s pretty easy. Soaked beans, blend the rest of the ingredients, cook in a crock pot. Very little hands on for something that tastes so amazing!

If you are looking to be frugal, dried beans are the way to go. A 16oz bag of dried pinto beans is just under $2! All the ingredients below? About $10. And you’ll get a couple of meals out of this. This recipe fed 4 adults – two of which went back for a hearty second portion. And there are still leftovers. The recipe itself is meat free, but I’ll cook up some ground meat or shred some chicken to make it more manly for the hubs. See below the recipe for my manly bean bowl variation. All the ingredients in this are things I buy in bulk and stock my freezer/fridge with so it still keeps the cost down.

This recipe has some kick. Not diving headfirst into a cool pool hot, but a nice even heat. If you want less kick, use only half of the chipotle peppers/adobo. This may look a little watery to you once you add in all the blended ingredients. Fear not. The long cooking time combined with the beans soaking up moisture will result in a nice smooth sauce.

Saucy Cowboy(girl) Beans

Ingredients

1 16oz bag pinto beans (soaked overnight in water) drained and picked over (for stones, rough-looking beans, what not)

1 large onion, roughly chopped

1 28oz can crushed tomatoes

1 7oz can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1 32oz carton beef broth

1 14.5oz can Hunt’s Garlic Fire Roasted Tomatoes

Directions

Place your soaked and drained pinto beans into your crock pot.

In a blender or a large bowl place all of the remaining ingredients (do not drain off the tomatoes). If using a blender, blend to make a smooth mixture. If you have little chunks of onion, no biggie. They’ll be mush in the crock pot. I use an immersion blender so I put my ingredients in a bowl.

Pour the blended mixture over the beans, stirring to get all the beans covered. Cook on high for 10hrs.

Yep, that’s it.

To serve: These beans are great all by themselves with a dollop of sour cream and some cornbread. To make them a meal, I turn them into bean bowls with the ingredients layered and then mixed when you plop your spoon in.

For the manly bean bowl meal, I fry up some ground beef or turkey (or bite size slices of kielbasa). Then I cook up some brown rice, or go old school with some mac n’ cheese (yes, the dayglo orange Kraft kind). Then I steam up some sweet yellow corn. Layer the ingredients in a big bowl as follows: Rice/macncheese, meat, corn, beans. Top with a nice melty cheese and a big dollop of sour cream. Serve with crusty bread or warm flour tortillas to soak up all the saucy goodness. The sweetness of the corn and coolness of the sour cream help to soften the heat of these beans.

The DIY Life: Hand crafted cake stand

17 Jul

My name is Heather and I am a pinterest addict. There. I said it. Now, having said it I must also admit that I pin a whole helluva lotta things that I am probably:

1. Never going to craft

2. Have room to store said craft should I manage to craft it as most of these crafts would require multiple households to display these items

3. Not manage to sucker the hubs into  “helping” me craft every single thing I’ve pinned (helping translates to creating anything that requires a saw or accurate measurements of ANYTHING!)

BUT, that being said I did feel compelled to immediately craft up THIS from over at joshuatrent.com. Why? Well, it’s a very simple and cheap craft to make. And my sink needed it to organize my dishwashing crap. I’ve got a 1/2 gallon old blue Ball canning mason jar that has my dish soap in it (I know, shocking. I’ve got a mason jar holding my dish soap!!!), a mason jar containing my Lemon Kitchen Sugar Scrub and a scrubby (yes, ANOTHER MASON JAR! I have a problem. Whatever).

I went to the store and purchased a 4.25in clay pot as well as a 10in clay saucer in the outdoor department. I then picked up a can of indoor/outdoor spray paint – since it’s going to be by the sink, the paint needed to be able to handle water – and got down to business.

I measured and marked off the center (what I thought was the center, and is center enough for ME. Hubs told me I was 3/8 of an inch off. I told him that was good enough for me. psh.) Then I traced a ring on the underneath of the saucer with the bottom of the pot, laid down a ring of clear window silicone because that is what was open, and stuck my clay pot on. I smoothed out any silicone that oozed and let it dry overnight.

Over the next 2 days, because I’m a craft slacker, I applied 3 coats of spray paint to the top and bottom.

Voila! My new organization for beside the kitchen sink. Loving it. For those in the Need to Know – The paint I picked was Krylon in gloss – Blue Ocean Breeze. The ocean blue of old Ball canning jars is one of my accent colors in my kitchen, so this worked out to be a bright and lovely shade. Very complimentary! I dig it.

If you want a more detailed tutorial of this simple yet awesome craft, please check it out here.

I’m thinking these would make fantastic housewarming gifts when paired with something edible, or even with items like I have sink-side.

The DIY Life: Keeping Chickens Series – Part 4,5,6 & 952.

12 Jul

So ya. I’ve been seriously slacking on the chicken keeping posts. Not because I’m not involved with my birds, but because well, I’ve been a busy girl! At least I feel like I’ve been busy.

So here’s the scoop on the coop, the hens, and the mallard ducks that were originally thought to both be ladies but it turns out one was masquerading as a lady and is in fact a boy. Dude looked like a lady! And now you can watch this impromptu, has zero to do with chickens video of clips from Mrs. Doubtfire to the tune of Dude looks like a lady – which does have something to do with my post!

Ok. Now that we got that out of the way, onto the topic at hand. Chickens. And female impersonator ducks. We are now down to 3 roosters from the original crew of 5. Whew. Two of our Barred Plymouth Rock boys got relocated to new homes where a roo was needed – one to help heal some hens that lost their leading man and the other to help provide some cross-bred fertilized eggs to Rhode Island Red ladies. At least that’s what they told me.  I’ve still got 1 BPR and 1 Golden Laced Wyandotte boy to find a home for, otherwise the hubs says they’re going to become freezer meat by the end of next week. gasp. Who knew it would be so hard to find homes for these beautiful boys? Everyone wants hens I guess and aren’t too keen on keeping a rooster to protect their ladies. With only 7 hens needing to be overseen by a male, we don’t have enough hen to roo ratio to keep them from fighting. No fights so far in the pecking order so that’s good news. The Wyandotte boy we are keeping has been named Thor – because he will put the hammer down! hahahaha! I’m hilarious. But seriously, that’s his name.

Thor – the mighty chicken king

They all have had their first adventures in the yard, and do in fact live up to the name chicken. They don’t go much further than the side and back of their coop. We even picked up a duck and put him right on the edge of the creek. He complained, loudly, the whole way back to the coop. Well then. So far we are letting them out of their fenced in run a few hours per week. They are always on the hunt for fresh greens, so we keep watch over them so they don’t wander into the garden thinking it’s their own personal buffet. They get fresh greens in between because any weeds I pull from the garden and flower beds go right into the run for their enjoyment. They also get all of our veggie and bread table scraps, as well as scratch. When we mow the lawn, hubs dumps one of the bags of cut grass into the run and they just go nuts! Bugs, fresh greens, stuff to kick around. Chicken bliss. The ducks have a nice little pool filled with water that I change every other day. They enjoy having bath time options and will go into it first thing in the morning. For now, it works for them.

Grazing in the yard

Speaking of ducks, we originally thought we had two ladies. I always thought that the smaller one must have been a runt or the bigger one was in fact a boy and just didn’t know it yet. Then his feathers started to change. I first noticed specks of green around his eye and though maybe he had some grass stuck. Nope, it was feathers. Hubs searched the net and found out the males are colored very similarly to the females up until about 14 weeks old. They do this to camouflage themselves from predators. I bet you didn’t know that either, so you’ve learned a new interesting fact to bust out at cocktail hours and family dinners. Woo hoo! So we have a male and female mallard. I’m so psyched.

Eddy duck – the dude who looked like a lady. He’s still molting his lady feathers, so he’s only half cross dressed right now.

Right now our chickens are 15 & 17 weeks old. They don’t start laying until 26 weeks old. Arrrrrgggggh! Needless to say, we’ll most likely have to play some tricks on them by keeping the coop warm and lighted if we want to see eggs before spring. But that’s ok. While raising chickens from chicks can be time-consuming and stressful, eventually it’ll even out. These birds know my voice and touch, and come running to the run door when I go outside. They make sweet little purring noises when I feed them scratch, will jump up to get a piece of cold crisp lettuce from my fingers, eat bugs (except lighting bugs…those apparently taste bad to them), provide nutrient rich compost for our garden, and provide much entertainment for the hubs and I, as well as our friends and family. And someday, they will provide us with eggs. Anything worth having does require some work and some effort, and I’m not against getting my hands dirty. I am glad that I have taken the step to knowing where yet another source of my food comes from – you can’t get any closer than your own back yard.

I have learned that chickens may not be the smartest animals but they do learn quickly. Bedtime starts shortly after the sun starts to set. They have shown me cucumber slices are by far the most coveted of table scrap treats. They have made it known that wearing bedazzled sandals near them is ill advised because they turn into bling chasing whores who will peck at my feet trying to lay claim to the sparkle. They will all gather at the door to listen intently while I talk sweetly to them. They have taught me to take pleasure in the simple little things.

We’ve got some finishing touches that need put on the coop, like finishing the nesting box and trimming the outside to cover the bazillion staples on the chicken wire. We are most likely going to have to put battens on the coop to match the shed since the boards shrunk in the extreme heat we’ve had these past weeks. But our birds are happy and healthy and that’s what matters most. Now give me some eggs!

Simple Meal Idea – Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings

9 Jul

I love dumplings – and these ones are fantastically simple and delicious. Spinach, ricotta, parmesan – wow. They are quick and easy to make. You can make them on a weeknight. Yes, homemade pasta for a weeknight dinner. So many people feel that from scratch cooking has to be fussy and time-consuming. It really doesn’t. This meal from start to finish was at 30 minutes or less. While the dumplings were boiling, I was pan frying some strips of thin steak that I seasoned with nothing more than roasted garlic seasoning and some A-1. Hubs LOVED this meal. Thought it was amazing. Simple ingredients + minimal time in the kitchen means I get to have extra time to relax and enjoy the hubsters company. It’s lovely.

Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings

adapted from The Daily Meal

¾ cup frozen spinach – thawed and drained

¾ cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

½ cup shaved parmesan cheese

2 large egg yolks

small pinch of nutmeg

pinch of kosher salt

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2 cups pasta sauce of your choice

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add all of your ingredients but the flour to a medium bowl. Using a fork or your hands, stir to combine everything together. Add the flour. Stir until just combined. Using a small cookie scoop or 2 spoons, shape the dumplings into ovals and place on a plate or cookie sheet.

Heat your pasta sauce until piping hot.

Drop dumplings 1 at a time into the salted boiling water. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until dumplings float to the top. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, gently remove the dumplings from the water. Place a layer of sauce on a plate or in a bowl and top with dumplings. Serve as a main dish with some crusty bread and a salad or as a side with some pan seared steak or chicken and salad.

Campin’ in the Kitchen – Campfire Biscuit S’mores

2 Jul

Have I ever mentioned my love of s’mores? No? Well, I love me some s’mores, in all their melty chocolate, gooey marshmallow messy goodness. They go hand in hand with campfires and camping…and even the upcoming 4th of July holiday! But why should we only enjoy them in certain situations? And why should we have to enjoy them only outdoors??? We shouldn’t. So now when I have a hankerin’ for a s’more, I think this will be my indoor twist. I found it in my Food & Wine magazine. I’m not going to lie. This is the first recipe I’ve seen in the magazine that made me want to make it. Don’t get me wrong – the photos are beautiful, they have great articles on where to go when you’re in a certain place, but for me, their recipes are not up my alley. But s’mores? Those are something I can get behind. There was actually a whole great article called “Campfire Cuisine” that featured a host of camping friendly recipes to help make the experience a little more gourmet. Without breaking the bank on ingredients or causing you to have to purchase hard to find items. If you get a chance, check it out.

This recipe is my adaptation, and will provide dessert for 2. I was on the fence about the jam (the original recipe called for raspberry) but it takes your standard s’more to the next level. Try to use homemade jam if at all possible. I cheated and used store bought marshmallows, but will be whipping up a batch of homemade  to try out so everything in the recipe is from scratch good.

Next time I have a cookout, I may make a bunch of these up as dessert. Everyone can grill or roast their own marshmallows and I’ll provide the biscuits.

Campfire Biscuit S’mores

adapted from Food & Wine June 2012

¾ cup Quick Biscuit Mix (recipe below)

1 tablespoon sugar

¼ cup water

½ cup chocolate chips

1 tablespoon butter

4 tablespoons strawberry jam (homemade is best)

4 marshmallows

Marshmallow fork

In a small bowl, combine the biscuit mix, sugar, water and chocolate chips. The batter should be thicker than a pancake batter.

Preheat a skillet and add the butter. Once the butter is melted, spread it around the pan and reduce flame to medium-low. Scoop the batter into the pan in 4 mounds, spreading it out in a circle to form little pancake like biscuits, 3-4 inches in diameter. Cook for 2 minutes and flip. Top 2 of the biscuits with strawberry jam.

Meanwhile, add 2 marshmallows to your marshmallow fork and warm them over an open flame (I used my stove burner), letting them bubble and crisp up on the outside. Place the 2 marshmallows on top of one of the jam topped biscuits and repeat the process for the other. (alternately, you can put them on top of the biscuits and under the broiler to toast more evenly for gooey deliciousness!)

Once you’ve added your toasted marshmallows, place the jamless biscuits on top of the marshmallows, creating a sandwich. Plate up and serve, eating immediately!

Quick Biscuit Mix

Adapted from Food & Wine June 2012

1 cup self rising flour (I mixed up my own batch)

3 tablespoons whole milk powder

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

Place all ingredients in a small bowl. Using your hands, work the oil into the flour until combined (it will resemble bisquick). Use for the s’more recipe above, or store for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.