Tuesday, April 25, 2017

April in the Garden

This past month has been focused on facelifts for the yard and garden.

We FINALLY finished rescreening the back porch. I tilled in 6 wheelbarrows of compost, plus garden soil and I was able to replant all of my perennials. This area needed it though, as it was compact, hard red clay and the plants struggled. I actually have room for more plants now! These will grow up and hide the gap under the porch. Still, maybe next year we'll put in some lattice under the porch so it's not so ugly.


The winter sowing sprouts are doing marvelously. In fact, I need to get them in the ground this week. But before doing that, I needed to to deal with all those WEEDS!


It's been 3 years since we mulched around the beds and the old mulch had pretty much decomposed into the mud. This makes a perfect hangout for seasonal weeds, which take up too much of my valuable time to deal with, so new mulch is being laid as we speak.


This pile doesn't look like much from up here, but it's about 5 ft. tall. Many, many, many wheelbarrows to go...


The first iris of the season. I call this tiny thing my "Cemetery Iris" as I rescued it from the trash bin of a nearby cemetery a couple of years ago. It's only 6"-8" tall and blooms one or two flowers a year...still it's pretty in it's tiny way.


I bought many spring blooming bulbs from Breck's last year and have been really impressed with their quality. Here is a pot of red tulips in the front yard. One can never have too many bulbs...


Lastly, hubby and I spotted the most magnificent double rainbow a couple of weeks ago while driving. It was probably the brightest, most colorful rainbow I've ever seen. Happy spring!



Friday, April 21, 2017

Soapy Friday

I've still been in my basement experimenting with recipes and techniques. Yesterday, I made an amazing soap using a mantra swirl technique and used Anjou Pear and Lime fragrance oils (FOs). It smelled AMAZEBALLS!


I think I have settled on a bath bomb recipe. These are Rose Bombs that are scented with 50% "Rosehip and Jasmine" FO and 50% "Honey I Washed The Kids" FO, and this might very well be my most favorite fragrance combo I've done to date. They are topped with dried, organic rose petals...heaven!


I tried my first hanger swirl technique using some "Karma" essential oil and FO blend. I luuuuve the scent, but my technique needs work as well as learning what temperatures work better for doing swirls. It's topped with a gold mica swirl and black sea salt, and the black parts are colored with activated charcoal. The batter in this batch was a little too firm to do a nice swirl. Still it's interesting and smells wonderful...


Interesting thing when I cut the Pear and Lime soap, I found that I had a partial gel (rats!). I am trying to achieve gel using a heating pad, but I still need to find what works and for how long. I might try this "How to fix a partial gel" technique and see what happens. Still, I might leave it this way, as the different colored swirls are kinda interesting...


Pretty soap, and it's topped with a little bit of white silver mica for some shimmer.





Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Best Carrot Cake Ever

This carrot cake recipe has a story behind it. All really good recipes do.

In fact, I've been making this carrot cake for over 15 years and it has never failed to impress. I originally got this recipe from one of my Cooking Forum Jedi Masters, and many people who I have made this cake for have claimed this is their FAVORITE cake ever - including my husband. I have made it so many times, I practically know the recipe by heart.



It was such a favorite, I even made it for our wedding cake 10 years ago. 10 YEARS!!!! Where has all the time gone?


I couldn't fathom spending several hundreds of dollars on something that was so personal, so it seemed fitting that I would make our own wedding cake. It was something we both loved that was made with love, imperfect, and utterly delicious.


We had our wedding reception at an amazing German restaurant...oom-pah-pah band and everything. By the end of the night, the whole restaurant was part of our reception party. It was hilariously kitschy and everyone had a blast. A homemade carrot cake fit right in!

In heaven there is no beer, that's why we drink it here!

Ein Prosit!

Chicken Dance!
So, when ever we want to celebrate something special, like my husband's birthday last week or our anniversary, I make this carrot cake. Happy birthday sweetie!




The Best Carrot Cake Ever
Recipe Source: Marilyn from the Cooking Forum

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups shredded or grated carrots
3 cups toasted and chopped pecans

Pre-heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Sift flour, baking powder, soda, salt
and spices together. Beat oil, eggs, sugar and brown sugar at medium speed for 2 minutes or until well blended. Stir in orange juice and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture on lowest speed, just until blended. 

Stir in carrots and and 1 cup of nuts until combined. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean. Cool completely before filling and frosting with 2 (or 2 1/2) recipes of Cream Cheese Frosting (depending on how much frosting you like on your cake or if you split your cake into more layers). Coat the sides of the cake with the remaining 2 cups of toasted, chopped pecans.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese; softened
1 stick butter or margarine; softened
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar (or more to taste)

Combine all ingredients and mix well with electric mixer. Add more powdered sugar if you would like the frosting to be sweeter.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

How to Make the Best Pork Ribs (Part 2)

Now that you've had overnight to let your ribs absorb all those yummy spices and seasonings in the refrigerator, it's time to cook those babies up!

Day 2: The Cooking and Eating!

First, you are going to pull out your ribs from the refrigerator, grab a measuring cup (2 cup), some honey, some minced garlic, and a beer.


Squeeze a dollop of honey (about 1 tablespoon) in the measuring cup, along with 1 tablespoon of the minced garlic, and about 3/4 of the beer (drink the rest!). Put the measuring cup in the microwave for 1 1/2 minutes, just until the mixture is hot (not boiling), and stir well to incorporate.

Preheat your oven to 250°.

Take your ribs and re-open those non-crimped ends. Place your ribs (preferably on a cookie sheet) on a tilt by putting a folded kitchen towel under one end. You don't need to do this if you have another person propping up the cookie sheet, but I find this to be the easiest way.


Pour your beer mixture equally in the openings for both racks of ribs. The tilted cookie sheet/ribs allows for the beer mixture to go all the way to the other end of the ribs and not spill out the front. This is why it's really important to crimp those tin foil sides together tight, as you don't want the beer liquid running out all over your kitchen counter!


Now crimp those open ends closed and tight! Place the ribs in the oven for 2 1/2 hours to cook.


After 2 1/2 hours, take the ribs out of the oven and carefully re-open your crimped ends and drain off that liquid inside the ribs. I find it's easiest to do this by tilting the cookie sheet over the kitchen sink. Sometimes I save this liquid to boil down and make my own BBQ sauce, but I only do that if I make my own dry rub and marinade.

Now, grab your favorite BBQ sauce and fire up the grill! I like to cut the racks in half, as they are easier to handle on the grill.


Grill the ribs for about 20 minutes, or until nicely charred, while basting with sauce. All you're doing on the grill is giving them some grilled flavor and carmelization, as they are already completely cooked from the oven.

Now, dig in!


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How to Make the Best Pork Ribs (Part 1)

This post is for my sister, who asked me the other day to help her with how to make good BBQ ribs. So, this one is for you, sis!

BBQ ribs, whether they are pork or beef, are really easy to make; however, they do take time to make "right". Now, I know the subject of what is "right" or "wrong" when it comes to BBQ ribs is a hot topic for many, but these are some of my baseline tips that many would agree on no matter how you cook them.

To make good ribs, you need 2 days. The first day, you prep the ribs and let them sit over night in the refrigerator to absorb flavor and seasoning from a dry rub. The second day, you cook them. In this example, I cook them in 2 ways: first in the oven, then on the grill. Really, this sounds like a lot of work, but it isn't. In fact prepping the ribs is the most involved part, so let's get into that!

Day 1: Preparation

For this example, I'm going to cook 2 racks of pork ribs. If you make 1, 2, or 5 racks, you'll need: a cookie sheet, some heavy duty (large) tin foil, a knife, some paper towels, and a dry rub. Normally, I make my own dry rub mix, but for this example, I'm using store-bought.


First, after unwrapping the ribs. Turn them over with the bone-side facing up on the cookie sheet. You can start at any end of the ribs, but I prefer the narrower end.


What we are going to do is remove the sliver skin. Silver skin an iridescent, shimmery membrane that you see on the back of ribs, or in other cuts of meat. It's a tough, connective tissue that is sure to RUIN any good rack of ribs if not removed.

Here's a YouTube video on how to do this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-RL_f8qdJE

If you've ever gnawed on a tough rack of ribs, chances are the silver skin wasn't removed. IF YOU DO NOTHING ELSE TO A RACK OF RIBS, PLEASE REMOVE THE SILVER SKIN!

Take your knife and insert the tip under the silver skin membrane at one end of the ribs (I prefer the narrower end) and lift it up away from the meat. What you are doing here is creating a "tab" of skin in which to grab and pull. You're not trying to pull off ALL the fat membrane off the ribs, just the thin, skin-like tissue on top.



Once you have your "tab" of silver skin, take a paper towel, grab the silver skin, and start to pull towards the other end of the ribs. If you're lucky, it will come off in one, satisfactory piece!



I normally use 2 hands for this: One to pull the silver skin, and one to hold the ribs down, but I had to take pictures! :-)

Try to get off as much as you can. If it tears away, just use your knife to restart a "tab" where you left off. Be sure to get the silver skin off from under the flap of meat on the back of the ribs too. Don't worry if you don't get every bit, just be sure to get the big piece that runs along the top of the bones.

Afterwards, there's not much too it, but it makes a huge difference in rib tenderness.


You can tell the difference in the rack with the silver skin still on (left) and the one with it removed (right).


Once the silver skin is removed from all the ribs, give them a good rub-down with a dry rub. Don't be shy and lay it on thick!


After rubbed down, place each rack of ribs on a large piece of tin foil. You need the piece to be big/long enough to fold over the ribs halfway, and crimp together like an envelope.


Starting on one side, crimp the tin foil bottom over the top all along the sides of the fold. Leave an opening at the other end, but gently fold up to prevent any juices to spill out during the overnight refrigeration.


Do this for all racks of ribs and carefully put the rib "envelopes" in the refrigerator for 24-hours. Be careful not to tear the "envelopes" to prevent leaking.

Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow when we cook these babies up!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Sorry about the lapse in posts, but SPRING IS IN THE AIR, and I've been generally busy trying to get things done around here before the heat, pollen, and bugs get out of hand.

But stay tuned; later this week I will post how to make awesome, grilled pork ribs and maybe update on some gardening stuff.



Monday, March 20, 2017

Happy Spring! - Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Whooo boy! It's been a busy week or so, but today is the first day of Spring, and I'm happy that last week's snow storm didn't take out my newly sprouted garden greens.

Here's what I've been up to lately...

First, there was the time change, which I HATE. Don't get me wrong, I eventually love having more daylight time at the end of the day, but the mornings are a beyotch...WHEW!


Second, I've made a bit more soapy goodies...

I retried my 100% Olive Oil Castile soap and I love, luuuurve how it turned out!


I tried another recipe where I did my first in-the-pot-swirl and I love how it turned out and the soap quality. This is a nice, hard bar, but I have some soda ash to deal with. A soap drying rack is on my "need" list for the near future.


I made another batch of "Pure Honey" soap and I'm still on the fence about the fragrance oil. I actually mixed this fragrance batch with some cybilla almond to make a "Honey Almond" soap and the almond is coming through more in the scent. Time will tell after it cures.


I'm still playing with bath bombs and such. I'm solid on bubble bars and I still am tweaking my bath bomb recipe, but I'm about 90% there.


Third, hubby and I started tackling our back porch rescreen project, but first we had to dig up all these perennials so they wouldn't get stomped on and before they started to really grow. I am SO SORE today! We only got the front part of the porch rescreened over the weekend, but that was the hardest part out of the whole project.

Plus it rained over the weekend, so it was basically getting up on high ladders with air compressed staple and nail guns in soft, sinking mud. Fun times.

It's all downhill from here. Famous last words, right?


And fourth, I made the most fan-friggin-delicious pot of Bean and Bacon soup last week! I'm definitely going to make it again soon so I can tell you about it.

Chaz says, listening to all of this work being done has made him tired, so he's just going to take another nap. :-)



Thursday, March 09, 2017

March 9th is National Meatball Day!

Happy National Meatball Day everyone!

Did you even know that today was National Meatball Day? Me neither, LOL!

I just happened to hear someone mention it on the radio a day or two ago, and I actually made meatballs this week, so it is with pure synchronicity that I bring you this recipe.


This makes a lot of meatballs. I usually freeze the remainders and they are good to use in so many ways: meatball sandwiches, with spaghetti and sauce, crumbled up and used in meat sauce, lasagnas, or really in any instance where you need a meatball or cooked, ground meat.

Oh, and BTW, can you even say the word "meatball" without saying it as MEAT-AH-BALL?

LOL, me neither!

The recipe is very forgiving and feel free to add or take away spices and seasonings if you want. I add some chili flakes to kick-it-up-a-notch, but if you don't want them, leave them out!

Kathy's Basic "Meat-ah-ball" Recipe
Makes about 30-35 large meatballs

2 cups unseasoned bread crumbs (I use Panko)
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup milk
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup chopped, fresh parsley (or 1/2 cup dried)
2 T dried oregano
2 T chopped, fresh basil (or 1/2 T dried)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T kosher salt
1 T ground black pepper
1 tsp crushed chili flakes (optional)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
4 lbs ground beef

Preheat oven to 425°.  Mix all ingredients except ground beef in a large bowl, then add ground beef. Incorporate beef well with other ingredients using either a Kitchen-aid mixer (paddle attachment) or your hands.

Either spray 2 large cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray or use nonstick aluminum foil. Roll meatball mixture into balls about the size of an apricot. Place on cookie sheet without crowding. Bake meatballs 18-20 minutes, or just until they are cooked through. Don't over cook or they will be dry.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Soaping Blunders and Dreaded Orange Spot (DOS)

Experience is the best teacher in the world. I've ventured into the wonderful (and obsessive) world of soapmaking as part of my bath and body product development and I am utterly and completely smitten. Once you go natural soap, you'll never go back!


But like all new love affairs, there have been "issues" that have popped up. In fact, the very first 2 batches of soap I made so far have been flops. This is due to part lesson-learning and me never doing anything halfway, even for the first time.

I first tried to make the Pure Honey soap from Soapqueen, but had to take it a step even further by incorporating a mica pencil line in the loaf. Yep, it split right down the middle when slicing because I added too much mica for the layers to bond.

Lesson #1 - Too Much Mica:


But, this soap smelled AH-MAZEBALLS at first and now I'm not so sure. It's been a 1-2 weeks curing and now the scent seems to be fading somewhat. I was going to make this again with no mica, but now...standby.

My second batch was a 100% Olive Oil Castile recipe where I used lavender and lemongrass essential oils in place of what was called for in the original recipe. They turned out nice initially, but imagine my disappointment a few days later to see this...

Lesson #2 - Dreaded Orange Spot (DOS):




Now, I'm not sure if this is DOS or not, but my gut is telling me it is. I feel kind of honored in a sense, as there are soapmakers out there who have made soap for 5, 10, 15 years or more and never encountered DOS!

Since then, I've learned there are several factors that contribute to DOS to include using Pomace Oilive Oil (yep, I used that) and even using lavender essential oil (yep, used that too). DOS can be caused by other factors such as rancid oil, soaping in a hot and humid environment, and gremlins.

But that humble bitch Experience can't tell me at this moment, so time will tell. If these spots get darker or if I get more of them, well then I'll know. This soap is still usable once it cures and it smells AH-MAZEBALLS too. I just won't be sharing these soaps with friends and family...not until I get it right.

All I know is I'm glad these things are happening to me now instead of in a 5 or 7 lb. loaf of soap. Until then, everyday I learn something new.
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