Thursday, July 30, 2015

Canning Tips and Tricks

Well, if you’re like me, you’re up to your elbows in canning right about now. I thought I’d share some of my canning tips and tricks to help you during the rush:

  • Always prepare an extra jar than what a recipe calls for. For example, if a recipe says it will make 6 pints, I prep 7 pints or 6 pints and 1 half pint. That way, I don’t have a million half-filled jars leftover in my refrigerator…although sometimes extras are nice.

    Positively Smitten

  • Prepare more brine that what a pickle recipe calls for. Sometimes I make a batch-and-a-half of brine, sometimes double.

  • If you’re making jam, jelly, or anything with a high sugar content, put your used dishtowels in the washing machine afterwards or in a sealed tub/container until you're ready to do laundry. This way, you won’t end up with a laundry basket full of ants.

  • Roasting/broiling tomatoes for peeling is SO much easier and less messy than boiling/blanching.

  • Get one of these vegetable choppers when you need to uniformly chop a large amount of produce. I use this for making salsa and it makes things SO MUCH easier.

  • If you’re processing anything for more than 15 minutes in a BWB, move the canning pot with its contents to a cool burner and let the jars sit in the water an extra 5-7 minutes before removing after processing. This helps prevent siphoning.

  • If you’re overwhelmed and just don’t have the time and energy to do a full processing session, simply prep all your ingredients for a recipe, mix them together in a pot (if called for), and store in the refrigerator till the next day. Heat up and process the next day accordingly. I often do my salsa and chicken stock this way.

Do you have any canning tips and tricks you'd like to share?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Ladies and gentleman, friends and lovers, Maytag repairmen...say hello to Leo the kitten:

It may seem that I am a glutton for punishment, especially after my last Gratuitous Kitteh Monday post, and the fact that we've owned this little monkey for less than 48 hours and he's already knocked over a lamp and broken a ceramic figurine, but the truth is we've been planning to get another kitteh for a while.

We really wanted to keep the grey tuxedo theme going, but as most cats are wont to do, he picked us. It's kind of funny though, Chaz is light grey, Miss Thang is a slate grey, and Leo is black, so I guess we've got an ombre thing going on here. I've always heard it's better to have 3 of any type of animal because if one gets sick/dies/etc., then there is a companion for the other. This makes sense to me and I couldn't imagine bringing in a kitten as a companion to an elderly cat.

He's 8 weeks old and was at a high-kill shelter on death row. I'm surprised that I was even able to get a non-blurry photo of him; this one never sits still and he's a climber for sure, but he is the most affectionate kitten I've ever encountered. He's all ears and claws.

Chaz is our ambassador kitteh around here and has been wonderfully sweet, but quite frankly doesn't know what to do with this tiny little ball of energy.

Miss Thang, on the other hand, who we ironically got this kitten for as she has more energy than Chaz, wants NOTHING to do with this evil creature that has invaded her home. I suspected as much, as she even has non-recognition aggression towards Chaz when he has to go to the vet. Last time we took him to have his teeth cleaned, it took 2 exhausting weeks of separation and reintroduction therapy to get those two back to where they were before.

It will take a couple of weeks to get Leo and Miss Thang introduced. Right now, she is all hisses, growling, and puffed fur. Poor Chaz has even taken the brunt of her pissy attitude, as he has played with the kitten and has his scent. Right now, Leo is secluded in his own room until he is used to his surroundings and I can start introducing him to Miss Attitude.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Toasted Pecan Basil Pesto

Pesto and summer are BFFs. It is a numero-uno summer sauce, as far as I'm concerned. There's nothing better than some freshly cooked pasta with pesto sauce, maybe throw in some fresh, chopped tomato, and a glass of white wine. That makes me very happy just thinking about it.

And pesto is good on or in SO MANY other dishes. I like to put it in my spaghetti sauce for added depth and richness, or on homemade pizza, or in cold bean or pasta salads. It's one of those kitchen staples that can't be substituted and you miss if you don't have it. That's why I like to make big batches of it in the summer and freeze it as pesto ice cubes. That way, if I need a little or a lot, I always have it on hand.

I am making a version of Ina Garten's basil pesto recipe. Her recipe calls for half pine-nuts and half walnuts, but I prefer pecans. I think pecans makes this pesto recipe more rich and flavorful. Plus, I think pecans are easier to find and are less expensive than pine-nuts.

Kathy's Toasted Pecan Basil Pesto
Recipe modified from Ina Garten's Pesto recipe

3/4 cup pecans
3 tablespoons fresh, chopped garlic cloves (about 4-5 cloves)
5 cups fresh basil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground, black pepper
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 1/3 cups olive oil

Preheat oven to 350°. Place pecans on a cookie sheet and toast 10-15 minutes, or until they become aromatic. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Add toasted pecans and garlic to food processor and process for 15 seconds. Add basil, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese and process. While the processor is running, add the olive oil in a thin stream through the feed tube. Stop the processor and scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure there are no clumps. Reprocess until thoroughly pureed. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. I sometimes find I like to add more olive oil or even cheese or pepper.

Use pesto immediately, or freeze in ice cube trays. When frozen, remove pesto cubes from trays and store in Ziplock bags in freezer. Ina mentions that you should put a layer of olive oil on top of your pesto before freezing to avoid freezer burn or air exposure, but I've never had any problems with the quality and I usually use it up pretty quickly.

Monday, July 20, 2015

How to Keep Cats Off Kitchen Counters

Today's Gratuitous Kitteh Monday is dedicated to the prevention of kitteh homicide.

So, any of you fine readers who have been around my blog lately know that I just upgraded my kitchen. If you want a reminder, check out my posts here, here, and here. I did 80% of the work myself and it was worth every drop of sweat and curse word that came out of my body.

The biggest improvement to the kitchen and my pride-and-joy is my new outside vented range hood. Getting that thing up there, to include figuring out how to vent it when we couldn't go through the ceiling was probably the most challenging part of this whole project, not to mention the range hood itself was very expensive.

So, when I was up on a step stool cleaning this off for the first time, I about lost my shit when I saw this:

and THIS


There is only one explanation for what this is and how it happened: my asshole cats.

Don't get me wrong, I love my cats immensely, but sometimes cats can be assholes. Now, I know cats will be cats and they jump up on things. I normally don't have a problem with that with ONE exception: the kitchen counters and the dinner table. I don't want cats on the surfaces where I either prepare or eat food. I don't even like my cats in the kitchen when I'm cooking food, as they get underfoot and that can be irritating and dangerous, especially when I'm doing things like canning.

My cats know they are not supposed to get up on my counters or table and won't do it when either my husband or myself are in the room, but I know they do it. I know they do it because I've caught them up there after I've LEFT the kitchen and returned, or I see their little kitteh paw prints on the glass top stove.

Chaz, in particular is the jumper. One of the benefits of closing in the space above the kitchen cabinets is that he not longer has his own personal cat walk up there. I'm assuming these scratches happened when we were in the process of closing up the upper cabinet space, he got up there and tried to jump on top of the range hood from the cabinets, and then slid off. Another thought is that he is jumping from the top of the refrigerator ONTO the range hood now...I try not to think about that, as that makes me start to hyperventilate.

Enter the PetSafe Ssscat Spray Deterrent

This ingenious product is basically a can of pressurized air attached to a motion sensor. When a cat jumps up on, or goes into/onto an area where he/she is not supposed to, this happens:

Now, some of you may think this is mean or cruel, but it is actually a training aid. It is even recommended by Jackson Galaxy, the infamous "cat whisperer" and IT WORKS! All it takes is a few times for your naughty kittehs to learn that jumping up on a kitchen counter isn't worth getting the shit scared out of them.

BTW, this also works on scaring the shit out of people who forget that it's on the kitchen counter and then go into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee or a soda or I dunn....WAAAAA...CRAP IT GOT ME AGAIN!!!

The can is operated by 4 AAA batteries and can be adjusted by the height and intensity of the air blast. Sorry this pic is so blurry...

I put it on my counter right next to the refrigerator, which hopefully will keep a kitteh from jumping up on the refrigerator and then on top of the range hood in the first place.

I know it has worked at least one time on my asshole kittehs. I was working in my office when I heard a huge commotion downstairs. I went down into the kitchen and Chaz was crouching in the middle of the kitchen floor giving furtive glances at the new monster on the kitchen counter. I figured he jumped up there and got the shock of his life. I do know now that I rarely see kitteh paw prints on my glass top stove.

Kitteh homicide prevented!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Getting Rid of Squash Bugs in the Garden

Summer squash is a foundation vegetable in most summer gardens, but it's plagued by pests. The two biggest culprits are squash bugs and squash vine borers, both of which I've had to deal with this season, and both of which will wipe out your summer squash in no time at all.

I'm pretty much an organic gardener and do not use any pesticides on my vegetables other than a once or twice BT treatment on the tomatoes for hornworms, which is perfectly safe and natural. I don't spray my zucchini or yellow squash with anything at all, which means the dinner bell has been ringing for the pests in my garden.

Now, the title of this post is a little misleading, as it's nearly impossible to get rid of all the squash bugs out of your garden, but you CAN control their population and the damage they do once you discover they are there. This is the first year I've ever grown zucchini and I love it. I pretty much expected pests and was prepared for what to do to mitigate their damage, while also learning what to do better for next year's garden.

I can't take credit for this genius idea, as I originally found it at Quinn's site Reformation Acres last year. Pure genius!

Okay, here's how you get rid of squash bugs in your garden:

1. First, identify that you have squash bugs. One of the benefits of having raised garden beds is that I can squat down and look up underneath the leaves of my squash plants, which helps me spot these clusters of copper colored squash bug eggs. Enemy identified!

If there are eggs, there are squash bug nymphs. They are grey colored and are usually in large groups, but they don't stand still for pictures! Here's a blurry pic of one large nymph.

2. Next, get yourself some duct tape.

3. Tear off a 6"- 8" piece and wrap it sticky side out around your fingers.

4. Use the tape to pick up the eggs and nymphs off the leaves. It's just like removing lint off a suit or dress, but grosser.

5. Throw away the piece of tape when it's full and repeat! You will find this very gratifying!

I find that by doing this, it slows down the squash bug reproduction cycle immensely and prevents my garden from being infested. I won't have to go out and do this again for a couple of weeks. This trick also works for other pests like cucumber beetles and such. Viola!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

I remember not long ago, both of these little stinkers could sit on this cat tree perch together. But now, only ONE can rest their big butt on it at a time (ahem..MISS THANG).


Friday, July 10, 2015

How to Glam-Up Your LED Light Bulbs: Part 1

Part of my kitchen and breakfast room upgrade included changing out the light fixtures. I originally had a drum-type chandy over our old breakfast table that I knew wouldn't work with what I was going with in the new design, so I bought the Industrial Chandelier from West Elm. I really liked it because it was simple and would not obstruct my view into the family room from the kitchen:

Most of the pics showed the chandy with those old-timey Edison bulbs, but I spotted a few people modernizing this beauty with big, round bulbs, and that's exactly what I wanted.

However, when we installed the chandelier and put in big, clear glass incandescent bulbs like this, the whole chandelier buzzed like an industrial bug zapper at a trailer park:

To make matters worse, the light fixture was installed on a switch with a dimmer, so when we dimmed the lights the buzzing got louder. Finally we experimented with other bulbs to see if it was the dimmer or the bulbs, and sadly, my pretty chandelier relented to being used with boring, incandescent 60w bulbs.

However, I had a hunch about the new LED bulbs I've seen in the stores, so we bought one, screwed it in, and buzzing!

But as much as I loved the modern shape and size of the LED bulbs, I DID NOT like the warning and product information ink that was stamped at the bottom of the bulb. It was really an eyesore (to me anyway):

So I thought, "Hmm, I wonder if a little nail polish would take this off," and I was off to experiment. First I grabbed a bulb, some nail polish remover, some cotton balls, and some scissors to hack my way through the clam-shell packaging. Why do they make that stuff so damn difficult to get through???

BTW, I decided to go with a 40w Warm White LED and double-checked to make sure it was dimmable. The wattage is lower than what was there before, but I felt it actually put out more light than the 60w incandescent bulbs!

So, I started rubbing off the was working!

It worked!!! Now, 5 more to go...

After they were all done, we screwed them in and I LOVED IT!!! Instant modernization and GLAM!!!

So much better, don't you think? I loved how these new LED bulbs instantly gave me a more modern look and even better...didn't buzz! 

LED bulbs are an investment, as each one of these bulbs cost around $12-$14 a piece, which is no small amount of change when you need six of them for one light fixture. However, they do not put off any heat and they are guaranteed to last 25 years, which means we will probably no longer have this fixture before those bulbs burn out, so it was an investment!

Wednesday, July 08, 2015


It is just beginning...the annual onslaught of tomatoes. I picked these and one, honking big zucchini this morning. The maters on the windowsill were picked on Monday, and there are about a dozen more tomatoes on the cusp of ripening to perfection as I type.

None of my heirloom tomatoes have started to ripen, but there is fruit. The plants are HUGE and are probably the most gorgeous tomato plants I've ever seen. Leaves the size of my hand!

There is nothing to give this perspective, but I am 5' 6" tall and these monsters are a good 2 feet taller than me!

I planted these plants in the box that held my hairy vetch cover crop from last fall. Hairy vetch followed by tomatoes are supposed to be BFFs, but I'm wondering if if they got too much nitrogen. I have fruit, but I'm concerned that I should have more. Of course, a couple of weeks with temps in the 90's when they were flowering didn't help, I'm sure. Tomatoes won't set fruit when daytime temperatures rise above 85-90 degrees, as that makes the pollen unviable, so that pretty much describes most of June. That and all the humidity has made the perfect setting for fungal issues, but what can you do?

That's the roll of the dice, right?

Monday, July 06, 2015

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Cute kitteh...keeping me company at my desk. Wonder what he is thinking?

No wonder none of my expensive Starbucks cup straws fit anymore...sigh.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Monster Hot Dog Relish

Do you have overgrown cucumbers from your garden?  Seems like this happens every year.

Even though my cukes aren't very happy where they were planted this year, they still managed to produce a few forgotten "monsters" that were hiding under the vines. One minute they were fine and perfect, the next they were HUGE. I mean, look at this's supposed to be a small, pickling cuke:

I grew some White Wonder cucumber seeds, hoping that I would have some fun looking pickles this year, but no. Next year I will give these seeds another try in a better place. I also grew some Boston Pickling and Arkansas Little Leaf. Well, there was nothing little about the harvest I picked this morning!

So what do you do with those monsters that are too big and too bitter for pickle spears or chips? You make Monster Hot Dog Relish!

This relish is sweet and spicy with a kick. If you'd like to tone down the heat, remove the jalapeno seeds and reduce the red pepper flakes, but in all honesty, the heat tones down quite a bit after the relish sits on the shelf for a while. I love this relish on hot dogs, in tuna fish and potato salad, and even mixed into shredded, roasted pork for the most AMAZING pulled-pork sandwich!

Kathy's Monster Hot Dog Relish
Makes 6 pints

*4 cups ground cucumbers
4 large onions, ground
3 green peppers, seeds removed, ground
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed, ground
4-5 medium jalapeno peppers, ground (keep seeds for more heat)
1 tablespoon salt (preferably canning salt or kosher)
4 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons tumeric
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dill seed
4 cups vinegar
4 cups sugar

Note: If you are using overgrown, "monster" cukes, peel and remove the seeds, as they tend to be bitter.

Grind/pulse the cukes, onions, and peppers in a food processor until the mixture is minced. Place the ground vegetables in a colander, mix in the salt, and allow to drain for 1 hour.

After draining, add the ground vegetables and the remaining ingredients to a large pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 1 hour; stirring occasionally.

Prepare canning jars and lids. Ladle relish in to pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace, and process in a BWB for 10 minutes.

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