Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pressure Canned Rabbit Vegetable Soup

Too much food! When I first started homesteading, I never thought I would have this problem, but right now we have so much produce coming in that I am overwhelmed! The easiest way to deal with excess is to freeze it, but our freezer is full to overflowing, so it is time to start canning. Canning is time consuming, and it can be a long process with a lot of steps depending on what you are making, but I can't tell you how wonderful it is to pull out a can of pre-prepped food to use later. I WILL remember to thank myself for all of this hard work later! 

I decided to use up some of the meat and vegetables in the freezer to can a chicken noodle soup- except we raise rabbits for meat (and chickens for eggs), so in this case it is a rabbit noodle soup. Also, canning noodles is a no no, so we also leave out the noodles and simply add them in when we are ready to eat it. So really we are canning a rabbit vegetable soup.

Here is what you need:
- 3.5 quarts chicken stock (I used homemade rabbit stock)
- 4 cups rabbit, chopped
- 2 cups carrots, chopped
- 1 cup celery, chopped
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 tbsp garlic, minced
- 1 tsp basil (you can add whichever herbs you like)

Dump all of you ingredients into a large pot and simmer for about 20 minutes to blend all of the flavors together. This sounds quick, but all of that chopping takes time... 

Next use a slotted spoon to ladle the chicken and veggies into sterilized quart or pint jars. Fill each jar about halfway and then fill the rest of the way with broth, making sure to leave one inch of headspace in each jar. 

Put on the lids and rims, and process in a pressure canner for 75 minutes for pint jars or 90 minutes for quart jars. This recipe makes 4 quarts.

Vine Peach Apple Butter

This is my first year growing vine peaches, and after lots of research trying to find recipes and having not much turn up, I decided to try a few concoctions myself. Vine peaches grow on a vine (very prolifically, I might add) in the summer, are the size of a small peach, bright yellow in color when ripe, and have a mild flavor. I had read that they can be used interchangeable with apples to make apple pie or apple butter.

And what better way to use my vine peaches than to make apple butter? I love making apple butter, and every time I can a batch, we eat through it in no time! It has the perfect mix of apples and cinnamon in a warm mash that makes me smile just to think about :) 

While vine peaches can be used interchangeably with apples in this recipe, I wouldn't use more than half as vine peaches because of their mild flavor (not quite as tasty as the granny smith apples) and they take a little longer to break down when cooking than the apples. If you don;t have any vine peaches, this recipe works just as well with all apples. In the picture below, you can see the size and color of the vine peaches in comparison to the granny smith apples.

Here's what you need:
- 4.5 lb. granny smith apples and vine peaches (combined- any ratio desired but I recommend more apples than vine peaches)
- 4 cups apple cider
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp. ground all spice

Peel, core, and cut the apples into wedges. For the vine peaches- peel, cut them in half, scoop out the seeds with a spoon, and cut into wedges. Boil the apples and apple cider on the stove for 30 minutes until tender. Puree the apples with a hand blender, or if yours is broken (like mine) the mixture should be soft enough to smash with a wooden spoon or potato masher.

Add in the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, and simmer until your desired thickness (about an hour and a half). 

You can eat it as is and keep it in the refrigerator, or can it for later. Ladle the mixture into sterilized jars*. This recipe makes 3-4 pints.

*To sterilize jars, place them upside down in a boiling water bath for 10-15 minutes. After closing the jars, wait until they cool, and the lids should pop down in the center to show that they are sealed. If any of the jars don't seal, just put them in the refrigerator and use those first. Sealed jars should be good for up to a year.

Yep, it really is that simple! And I love the way it makes my house smell when I make this stuff. If only there were a way to bottle up this smell! I guess I will settle for caning the taste :)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Spaghetti Squash Italian Sausage Bowls

I successfully grew my first harvest of spaghetti squash this year, and I wanted to use the first two to make something really special, so I went out on a limb and tried a new concoction of my own! I usually don't take those kinds of risks with vegetables have have limited produce, but I am so glad I did. This recipe is downright delicious!

What you need:
- 1 lb sausage of your choice (I used some local Cajun sausage that was awesome!)
- 2 medium spaghetti squashes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 lb. tomatoes
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp sage
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 2 tsp basil
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 oz pepper jack cheese
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese

1. Slice the stem off of the spaghetti squash and cut them in half lengthwise. Clean out the "guts" of the squash with a spoon (feed the seeds and center to chickens if applicable :).

2. Brush the inside of the squash with olive oil, and place them cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 F for 30 minutes until the sides of the spaghetti squash can just be scraped into noodle form with a fork.

3. While the squash is cooking, cut the sausage up into tiny pieces (the size of diced ham) and brown in a skillet with a little olive oil.  Add the onion, thyme, oregano, sage, basil, salt, pepper and bay leaf while it browns.

4. While waiting for the sausage to brown, prep your tomatoes. Place the whole tomatoes in boiling water for 2 minutes until the skins split and then transfer them to a bowl of ice water for 2 minutes. Peeling the skin off should be a breeze at this point! Cut off the ends, peel them, and quarter them.

5. Add the tomatoes to the sausage and herb mixture on the stove and simmer for 10-12 minutes until the tomatoes break down a little to form a sauce. Add the garlic and pepper jack cheese. Stir in the cheese until it is melted.

6. Scrape out some of the "spaghetti" from inside each of the spaghetti squash bowls and set aside. Ladle the sausage and sauce to fill each of the bowls halfway. Add the "noodles" back in to each bowl and fill to the top with more sausage and sauce. Cover the top of each bowl with mozarella cheese and bake at 350 F for 20-30 minutes until the cheese on top is melted and has a touch of golden brown.

You can garnish with fresh herbs. We enjoyed ours with steamed bush beans with fresh lime basil. Can I just say it was beyond delicious?! Who knew that cooking from your back yard could feel so gourmet?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix

When I think about how much money I spend on those little packets on seasoning mixes, it makes me cringe. Not to mention that I don't really know what is in them. After looking at several recipes for DIY taco seasoning mix, I decided to give it a try and see if I could taste a difference. 

Here is what I discovered...
1) This stuff is so easy to mix together
2) The flavor is so much better that the packets!!!
I will not go back to the store bought stuff. Ever.

There are lots of seasoning combinations out there, but here's the recipe that I settled on.
What you need:
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp onion powder
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Simply mix all of the ingredients together and store in an airtight glass container. Feel free to make several batches to fill whatever size container you use. Use 1-2 tbsp of mix per pound of meat depending on how seasoned you prefer it. Let me just tell you- you will taste a huge difference. This recipe is so packed with flavor! I just love finding better ways to do things, and less expensive with more flavor seems like a double win to me :)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

DIY Mint Extract

Last spring I bought a few tiny mint plants and put them on the edge of a raised bed in my vegetable garden. I heard that mint grows easily...aka is very invasive and aggressively takes over everything. In the fall it was out of control and I pulled it all up. Or so I thought. It came back- this time growing between the bricks in the pathway. That's ok, I thought. It smells nice when I step on it, and it isn't taking up any garden space. Wrong. It has sent its runners into every adjacent garden and is now impossible to get rid of. So this morning I pulled a bunch up (1 lb. to be exact- yes, a full pound of mint, and that doesn't even put a dent in it) and decided to make something useful out of it.

Mint extract!

The process is very simple. 

1. Pull up the overwhelming amounts of mint taking over your yard.

2. Pull off all of the leaves that don't have brown spots or edges.

3. Wash the leaves and dry them using a salad spinner.

4. Put the leaves into a glass jar and crush the leaves to release their minty goodness. I used a butter knife to pierce and crush them.

5. Pour Vodka over the leaves until they are covered.  Seal the jar, give it a good shake, and place it in a cool dark place for six weeks (remembering to shake it every now and then).

6. Strain the leaves out of the mixture and use as you would mint extract bought from the store!

I am looking forward to mint shakes, ice cream, and cookies! But mostly, I am looking forward to reclaiming my garden from the encroaching mint takeover...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Fresh Garden Veggie Salsa

We all know that the most nutritious way to eat vegetables is raw, but I can only eat so many raw vegetables before getting tired of crunching. I also happen to have SO MANY fresh veggies coming in from the garden right now that I am having trouble making sure that none go to waste. And since I can only freeze and can for so is a fantastically delicious way to enjoy all of those fresh garden veggies raw!

The best part of this recipe is that you can mix and match using almost any of the vegetables that you have available in the garden. I have made this recipe using all kinds of different vegetable combinations, and it always turns out addictingly delicious.

Here is what I used this time:
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 yellow squash, chopped
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 1 cucumber, chopped
- 2 small ears corn, cut from the cob
- 2 green onions, chopped
The Sauce:
- 1/4 cup Italian dressing
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1/2 tsp garlic salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp hot sauce
Chop all of the vegetables into small pieces so that they can easily fit on a chip. This step does take a while, but trust me, its worth it!

Mix the sauce together in a separate bowl, pour it over the vegetable combo, and mix well.

Now eat it with chips. Try not to eat the whole bowl in one sitting. It will be a challenge!

 The best part about this recipe is that you really can use whatever you happen to have around. Some other good ingredients that I have used and like are bell peppers, onions (white, yellow, or red), canned beans (rinsed well), and even some fruit such as mango or vine peach. The combination possibilities are endless! Enjoy :)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Spiced Carrot Zucchini Bread

Right now in south Louisiana I am in full garden harvest mode. I haven't had much time to post because there are so many projects going on. I am lucky just to keep up with all of the produce coming in from the garden much less made nice posts about it. I will try to do a better job in the future :) 

One of the downsides to canning is that you spend lots of time in the kitchen, but don't have anything to eat at the end of it. I know I will be glad that I canned all the tomatoes and pickles later in the year, but for now, I need some kind of edible reward after all this work in the kitchen! Here is a quick bread recipe to whip up that tastes awesome AND uses up some of the overwhelming amounts of garden produce rolling in to your kitchen.

What you need:
- 2 1/4 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 3/4 cup chopped carrots
- 3/4 cup chopped zucchini
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- 2/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 eggs, beaten

Spray a loaf pan non-stick cooking spray and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and then add in the remaining ingredients until well mixed. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 60 minutes until cooked through. Let the loaf cool on a cooling rack and enjoy! 

The pictures on this did not come out great, but I don't mind so much because the bread came out AMAZING! You honestly can;t tell it has so many vegetables in it, but they make the bread come out very moist. The cinnamon and cloves give it just the right amount of spice to make it great for breakfast or dessert!

Monday, May 11, 2015

DIY Rain Chain

Last weekend we put up gutters on the house and I wanted a creative and beautiful way to get the water from the downspout into the water barrel in my vegetable garden. What better than a rain chain? A rain chain is a decorative chain that directs the water down without too much splashing. Rain chains can be very expensive, but I'm bot inclined to spend much money garden decor... or anything really. So I began scrounging around the house for something that I could turn into a rain chain, and I found the perfect thing! 

Shower curtain hooks! 

I just happened to have two extra sets of shower curtain hooks in the back of a drawer. I think I got them at goodwill for $2 per set. You never know when you will need a set of shower curtain hooks, and it turns out that I needed them for this project!

They are perfect because they are metal, which means they are heavy enough to keep from blowing in the wind, they are made to go in the shower, which means they won't rust when wet, and they are hooks, which means it is really easy to link them together to make a chain.

This was really easy to make- it literally took about 15 minutes. I simply linked the shower curtain hooks together and used some wire to secure each connection so that they don't become disconnected in the wind (we do get hurricanes).  We hung it from the downspout and lined it up with the grate on the rain barrel.

I couldn't happier with the result! Not only is it beautiful and functional, but it also cost less than it would have to buy that ugly plastic down spout. Can't beat that!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Blanching Vegetables

As the summer ramps up and the garden produce starts rolling in, my kitchen becomes a place where I not only cook fresh produce, but freeze and can it as well. Some vegetables never produce enough, but there are always several that produce way more than we could eat fresh, so it's time to fill the freezer!

In order to freeze vegetables in a way that keeps the peak nutritional value and freshness, it is necessary to blanch them first. Blanching is like "flash boiling" vegetables to kill the enzymes that naturally break down vegetables over time.

Here are the basic steps for blanching vegetables:
1. Use the freshest vegetables that you can
2. Wash, peel, slice or dice your vegetables into the size and shape that you will want to use them in later
3. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
4. Add the vegetables to the water and bring back to a boil.
5. Start the time needed according to the chart when the water begins to boil.
6. When the time is up, strain the vegetables and plunge them into a bowl of ice water for the same number       of minutes that they boiled.
7. Strain the vegetables again and lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet to dry.
8. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 12-24 hours to freeze as individual pieces.
9. Put the vegetables in a freezer ziplock bag and label it with the date and contents.
10. Pull out of the freezer and enjoy any day of the year!

Different vegetables should be blanched for different amounts of time, so here is a handy chart to serve as a reminder!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

How to Freeze Fresh Carrots

I just picked the last of my fall carrots. Yes, I know it's May- good ole' mild Louisiana winters! I always plant the majority of my carrots in the fall. Some are ready by early winter, but others sprout late or just take forever to grow, so I let them stay over the winter and am rewarded with early carrots the next year (from January on). There were a few little scragglers left, so I pulled them all up and plan on dicing them up and freezing them for chicken pot pie! So here's how to freeze your own fresh garden carrots...

First wash the carrots well, peel them, and remove the tops. Next cut the carrots into whatever size or shape you are going to use them in. I will dice mine into quarter inch cubes for chicken pot pie, but you can slice them or keep them whole.

Now we will blanch the carrots. Blanching is a fancy word for boiling them in water for a few minutes to kill the enzymes in your vegetables that break down the nutrients over time. If you sliced or chopped your carrots, you will only need to blanch them for two minutes. For whole carrots, blanch for five minutes.

WHen they are finished boiling, strain the carrots and immediately plunge into ice water to stop the cooking as quickly as possible. Let them sit in the ice water bath for the same number of minutes that you blanched them for.

Finally, drain the carrots and lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Put the baking sheet into the freezer for 12-24 hours until the pieces are individually frozen. This will help keep them easy to separate rather than freeze together in one giant clump. 

Put the pieces into a freezer ziplock bag, and you are ready for fresh carrots any time!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How to Freeze Fresh Strawberries

I love fresh strawberries in the spring! Unfortunately, like most berries, strawberries do not stay fresh for long. In order to enjoy them in salads and smoothies year round, I freeze them in gallon sized ziplock bags. Right now my freezer is literally packed with bags of strawberries, mulberries, and blackberries. I will probably eat just enough of them to make some room to add blueberries later next month. 

Freezing strawberries is very simple, but there is a process, so here it is!

First wash all of the strawberries thoroughly and make a "V" shaped cut in the top of each strawberry to take off the leaves at the top.

You can freeze the strawberries whole or sliced in a variety of ways, but I suggest slicing them in half lengthwise. This way they are still in big enough pieces to use on top of a cake or for dipping, but not so huge that they would take forever to chop up if I throw them in the blender for a smoothie. 

Lay out all of the strawberry slices on a baking sheet so that they do not overlap and put them in the freezer for 24 hours. This will allow each individual strawberry to freeze so you end up with a bag of separate berries instead of a giant frozen block of strawberries.

After waiting a day, simply put all of the strawberries into freezer ziplock bag and pull them out any time you want a taste of early summer!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Houmas House Plantation Gardens

DH was so sweet to take me on a day trip to visit the Houmas House Plantation and Gardens outside of Baton Rouge for my birthday! I love touring old plantation homes- the history, the odd contraptions they used to solve problems we never think about today, and the large self-sufficient estates. But the Houmas House was so much more than a usual tour because of the incredible gardens, and of course, I'm a sucker for breathtaking landscaping because I can appreciate how much work goes into it!

I wish I had gotten better pictures, but I wasn't planning on blogging about the trip until later thinking back on how wonderful the visit was! So just know that these pictures do not do justice to the beautifully crafted jungle of plants that cover the grounds.

The main house has an 8 oak alley. It used to be 24 oak but most were destroyed to make way for a levee along the Mississippi River. The gorgeous oak trees are literally all over the property, setting the frame for the gardens. The oldest trees span in age from 300-600 years old.

The oak tree all the way to the left has what looks like a fancy bird house it in, but it actually houses a huge bee hive where they make their own honey to sell in the gift shop. Love that!

A central circular pond is surrounded by 4 quadrants of gardens that include the vegetable gardens, vine covered walkways, formal gardens, and water gardens.

There are formal gardens with the typical trimmed hedges, symmetrical lawns, and Greek statues.

 The formal gardens have nooks and crannies with quaint seating areas, and even the flower gardens are dotted with edible plants such as dill, artichoke, broccoli raab, cabbage, and kale.

Does this picture look familiar??? Look closely... 

That's right, it is Monet's Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge paining! It even has a Japanese tea house from the top, from which the view is even more of a likeness to the painting. To see this reinvention of the well-known painting is like seeing art come to life! This pond and waterfall is just one piece of the elaborate water gardens that have fountains, flowing streams, and waterfalls that flow into a seeing of pools and koi ponds graced with Louisiana irises and water lilies. Simply breath-taking!

The vegetable gardens were fascinating to me! They use all of the food that they grow in the vegetable gardens in the kitchen for use in the restaurants on the property, which I love. 

They had gotten 11 inches of rain the week that we visited, so you will notice the water still puddled between the rows of vegetables.

The trellises are all formed from intertwined branches and vines creating an artistic yet natural look.

While the vegetables have an overgrown, natural look to them with interplanted crops and curved rows forming a variety of shapes and designs, there is still a visible order and intentionality to the plantings.

I also recommend the tour of the house. The view of the gardens and the property from the second story balcony and fantastic!

Overall, I wish I would have taken a thousand more pictures! What I have are the few that I quickly snapped at the end. I guess that is the sign of truly living in the moment and enjoying it- being so present where you are that is doesn't occur to you to preserve it for later. I hope you have the chance to visit. You will not be disappointed!