Friday, July 29, 2016

Figwatch

Welcome to Figwatch, 2016...


I've been SO excited this gardening season that I might actually get some figs off my two, little fig trees. I've had these trees for 3 years and have nurtured them from their original 6-inches in height when I first brought them home. One is a "Negronne" and the other is "Olympian".

I almost gave up on these things, but I was ecstatic to see little figlets form earlier in the season.

Right now, the figs are about the size of walnuts in the shell. They sure are taking their sweet, delicious time.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Homemade Ketchup with a Kick

There aren't many things that I can or preserve that I feel can never get enough of...except this ketchup.


I discovered it last year from my recipe file, made a few tweaks, and BOY-OH-BOY is it good! It originally was designed to be a tomato jam, and can very well be cooked down into a jam, but I like it better as a ketchup. It uses A LOT of tomatoes, and they are cooked down into almost nothing, but it's worth it.


This ketchup has a wonderful umami depth and complexity to it that you won't get from traditional, store-bought ketchup. This is what makes it so friggin' good! Once you taste it, you will know exactly what I'm talking about.

It also has a spicy kick to it from the chili pepper flakes, so it's definitely not a ketchup for the kiddies. Besides, after all the work you put into it and taste how amazing it is, you'll want it all for yourself!


Kathy's Ketchup with a Kick
Recipe source modified from: I don't remember...
Makes 3 - 4 pints (depending on how far this is cooked down)

*5 pounds tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
3 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup lime juice
2 tsps freshly grated ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 T salt
*1 T red chili pepper flakes
1/4 - 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

Note: If you don't want tomato seeds in your ketchup, strain the peeled tomatoes through a sieve or food mill. I don't mind them in mine. 

Also Note: If you do not want your ketchup to be spicy/hot, omit chili pepper flakes. 

Here's a link for instructions on how to quickly peel tomatoes.

Combine all ingredients except apple cider vinegar and puree using a food processor, blender, or blender stick. Pour pureed ingredients in a large saucepan or pot and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature to a simmer and cook the ketchup for approximately 1 - 1 1/2 hours, stirring regularly. Depending on the water content of your tomatoes, this may take longer. The mixture should cook down to the consistency of traditional ketchup and slightly mound on a spoon.


When mixture is at the desired consistency, add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and stir in. Taste to see if you would like the ketchup to be a little more tart, and if so, add a little more vinegar. Cook a few more minutes, then pour mixture into prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. 

Process in a BWB for 20 minutes. Alternately, you can simply let this cool and store it in your refrigerator. 

Depending on the water content from the tomatoes and how far I cook this down, sometimes I get as little as 2 - 3 pints, and sometimes I get 3 - 4 pints out of one batch.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Today the temperatures here in Virginia are supposed to be over 100° and it might as well as be 1,250°.

Bleh...it's SO hot!


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Kitchen Upgrade: 1 Year Later

Well, it's been just a touch over a year since I finished upgrading the kitchen. I look back on it now and it's almost like a dream. I forget how much anxiety, exhaustion, and hard work it was, and I think, "Oh, it wasn't THAT bad."

It's sort of like pregnancy amnesia...so I've heard.

In the beginning...when things were innocent and easy.
We've had friends, family, and even a couple of realtors compliment us on a great job, and I think it is a HUGE improvement compared to what it looked like before.

Orange you glad we updated the kitchen?


I can proudly say that everything has held up like a champ. The cabinet finishes are wonderful and I've had no chipping or scraping, other than that one incident of knicking a cabinet with a measuring cup. I give the cabinets a wipe down every once in a while to clean up spills or drips.


My outside vented range hood is a dream, although we've learned that we have to grease the outside wall vent flap with silicone grease in the winter to keep it from freezing shut!


The ONLY touch up I've had to do recently is re-caulk the base of the backsplash with the counter top. It's pretty common that caulk can shrink and pull back a little over time and need to be refilled. That, and I went pretty sparse on the initial application.


If there's anything I hate more in the world it's caulking. It drives me nuts and I end up wiping away more than I put down to prevent it overlapping onto the tile/counter or looking sloppy. I'd ALMOST rather cut and fit trim moulding....ALMOST. :-)

Anyway, I decided to try the whole put-down-painter's-tape trick for caulking a straight line with the least amount of mess, and it worked pretty well. I still had some touch up wiping to do, but much better than free-styling it.


So, one year later I am still thrilled with the kitchen upgrade and I'm SO, SO glad I did it. It's made a huge impact on the value of our home and it's made the kitchen more user-friendly. Not to mention it's gorgeous!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Busy Busy

Well, it's that time of year again when things start to get busy. I have been complaining that I will never grow zucchini and summer squash again, but I have been impressed. About every 2 days I am picking this...


Next, the tomatoes are starting to come in. This is the second basket of this size that I've picked this week and I just made 8 pints of salsa and some pasta sauce 2 days ago:


Beside the tomatoes is my garlic for the year. I have about 50-75 heads here. The winner-winner-chicken-dinner for this year was "Lorz Italian" from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I haven't grown it in the previous years, and last year I didn't label my garlic, so I didn't know which kind was the best.

"Lorz Italian" consistently gave me big, hearty bulbs as compared to the average-sized bulbs of "Inechelium Red" and "Red Toch". I still have "Italian Softneck" in the ground, as they sent out scapes in the spring and I wasn't sure if I wanted to dig them up. I probably will...


I was thinking of what to do with all this garlic, as I won't be able to use it all before it starts to dry up. I'm thinking I will probably roast a bunch of heads and then save the paste in the freezer. I don't want to pickle them as they will probably turn green.

At any rate, I'm busy! I've been actually making a lot things for the freezer than what I've normally done in the past. So far, I've made: 4 Spinach and Zucchini Lasagnas, 1 Zucchini and Stuffed Pepper Casserole, and have shredded and frozen 4 quarts of zucchini for future zucchini bread, soups, casseroles, etc. As a bonus, my parsley is ready for drying, so I'll get on that in a day or two. 

Fun times!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday - Closure

Well, I sort of predicted it, but it actually turned out for the better. I was contacted by the company who has Leo's microchip registered and was informed that another owner would like to transfer the registration. This is good news!


That means that whoever adopted him is being responsible and cared enough to ensure that if Leo is lost, he will come back to them. From what my vet told me, very few new owners of previously owned animals actually do this, although I don't know why.

I asked the microchip company to forward my contact information to the new owners in case they would like to know a little about his past, but I haven't heard anything. I would love to have the chance to learn about his new life, but for now, I am happy to hear that his new mommy or daddy are caring for him and are thinking about his well-being.


Friday, July 08, 2016

Blueberry Pecan Coffee Cake

Sometimes cooking accidents are serendipitous. Often, a cooking mistake or attempted recipe "improvement" turns whatever it is you're making into a flop, but sometimes - just sometimes - it turns out for the better.

Following along my blueberry theme, I spied a wonderful blueberry coffee cake recipe from one of the great, baking Godmother's herself - Dorie Greenspan. I'm sad to say that I haven't given her book, "Baking: From My Home to Yours" enough attention, even though I've had it for several years.

Her Blueberry Crumb Cake was on my radar and I had all of the ingredients except walnuts...at least I thought.

"Well, I have pecans, so I'll just use those." I said.

And then, I noticed I didn't have a lemon for the called-for lemon zest.

"I guess orange zest will have to do because that's what I got!"

And finally, when mixing everything up, I accidentally added 1/2 stick more butter than what was called for in the recipe. I was doubling the recipe and accidentally beat in 2 whole sticks of butter instead of 1 1/2 sticks.

"Well, if it's meant to be, it's meant to be. Let's see what happens anyway." So, into the oven it went.


To my surprise, what came out was an oh-so-tender cake, with a wonderful hint of orange, and nubby-crunchy in all the right places.

Sometimes accidents are meant to happen, and this is an "accident" that I will happily make again.


Blueberry Pecan Coffee Cake
Recipe modified/inspired by: Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

For the crumb topping:
5 T butter at room temperature
1/4 cup cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar (packed)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans

For the cake:
2 cups blueberries (preferably fresh, or frozen not thawed)
2 cups plus 2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2/3 cup sugar
Grated zest from 1 orange
1 stick butter (8 T) at room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°.

To make the topping: Put all the ingredients except the nuts into a food processor and pulse just until the mixture forms clumps. Scrape topping into a bowl and and stir in the nuts. Refrigerate until needed.

To make the cake: Using your fingers, toss the blueberries and 2 tsps of flour together, just to coat the berries; set aside. In a separate bowl, rub together the sugar and the orange zest with your fingers until the sugar is moist and aromatic; set aside.

Mix the 2 cups of flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a separate bowl; set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat the butter and orange-sugar mixture together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in between each egg, then beat in the vanilla extract. Don't be concerned if the mixture looks curdled - it will smooth out. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Don't overbeat.

Gently fold the blueberries into the batter. Scrape the batter into an 8-inch buttered pan and smooth until level. Pull the crumb mixture out of the refrigerator and crumble it on top of the batter. Lightly press the crumb mixture into the batter.

Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool just until it is warm or until it reaches room temperature.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Summer Blueberries and Blueberry Pie

Hope you all had a fabulous Fourth of July weekend! Up here in D.C., it was overcast and rainy most of the weekend, so many of the fireworks displays were canceled. That's okay as far as I'm concerned because an overcast day is a perfect day to pick blueberries!


Hubby and I went to a local u-pick farm to pick these beauties, but the farm is so small and unmarketed, we like to think of it as "our farm". The owner primarily works with the state cooperative extension office as a volunteer to grow certain varieties of food and report his experience back to them. They provide equipment and funding and he grows lots of great food, which he then donates to the local food bank!

90% of what he grows is non-GMO and organic, like these blueberries:


He does sell some of what he grows to farmer's markets and restaurants, but I think he primarily does it for the fun and tax break. We come to this same farm for our asparagus, rhubarb, and whatever else he's growing at the time.

During our visit, we had company via the farm chickens. They were so friendly and amusing to watch.


They stayed by our sides the entire time. These chickens have it made, let me tell you! Free run of an organic fruit and vegetable farm - I think they were tired of the blueberries and were hoping that we'd throw them a bug or worm.


Hey, guess what? CHICKEN BUTT!!


It dawned on both me and my husband that we have never picked blueberries before this. Such an awesome first for both of us. We ended up picking 15 lbs., which were taken home and frozen for future treats. 


Yesterday, I made a blueberry pie. It was a bit of a disappointment because the filling turned out to be runny, but there were no complaints when served with a side of vanilla ice cream!

I'll have to try another recipe, or maybe I'll make some blueberry coffee cake, or some muffins, or a blueberry cobbler, or some blueberry ice cream, or.... :-)


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