Monday, March 12, 2012

Early Garden

I want to document my garden /gardening this year.  I have a lot of people who ask me what I do for my garden.  They usually ask when it is in full-swing and then I can't even remember what I did and why.  Also, there is always some issue every year and if it recurs I like to know what I did about it in previous years!  So that's another good reason to document.  Be warned,  I don't do things necessarily the way most people do.

I started some seeds in early March (it is still early March).  I did take some pictures, but that camera is currently battery-dead so I will have to download and explain that in a later post.

Today is a glorious day, so I went out and turned over one garden and planted lettuce.  That is a "cold" crop, meaning it can handle a frost and is okay with cold (although I may put plastic or a fishtank over them to help germinate if this weather doesn't hold out.)  There are other cold crops - peas, spinach, cauliflower. etc. (mostly veggies my family won't eat.)  Check the back of the seed packet and it tells you whether you can plant in early spring before the last frost.

This is the garden that I have NOT turned over yet.

I cleaned out my goat shed this weekend and just plopped the piles in the planting areas of my garden.  The blue tarp is in the walkway.  This is how I compost.  I just stick the poo/hay/leaves/whatever organic material on my garden and ignore it.  I have some older piles from the fall clean out that have been breaking down all winter.

Below is the garden I turned over today.  It looked similar to the above, but the piles had decomposed almost completely into compost.   I turned over what was composted into the soil beneath and then raked the uncomposted material back into 2-3 piles.   Mostly hay that is still mucky.  This is similar to turning a compost pile.  It introduces air into pile and assists the composting process.  Those piles will most likely stay there and then be worked into the soil later, maybe even next growing season.   The piles in my above garden will breakdown quite a bit in the next 2-3 months and I will turn over those and rake up any uncomposted material in that garden in mid-May.

My reasons for composting this way are: 
a) The soil under the compost pile is always the best  and most productive soil.
b) I don't have to build any special structure to hold / maintain the compost.
c) I have so much organic material that I don't have to be selective about where I put it.
d) Turning over the compost is easier because you don't have to reach underneath it. You can just rake it to another area, leaving behind rich soil. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Chicken Soup from Scratch (and other leftover chicken recipes)

My daughter is home from college and so I made a roast chicken last night for her.  Generally, the day after a roast-chicken, I make chicken soup.  Since a friend asked me recently what my "secret" was to making chicken soup.   I thought I would blog my process / recipe.

First, roast a chicken.   You could also roast split chicken breasts or thighs and legs.  Don't use boneless.   My personal theory is that the fat of the skin and the gelatin of the bones adds something to the broth.  There is no scientific support for this theory, but I do know that boneless chicken breasts do not make a good broth.  It also has a different quality if you just go straight to boiling it.  Roast it first.

Then eat it.   We just eat what we want and leave the rest on the carcass.  If I am roasting chicken pieces, I may roast a few extra to use exclusively for soup.  But generally, I think soup is a good way to use all that undiscovered meat after eating a roast chicken.

Take the picked-over carcass and stick it into your crock pot covered with water on low overnight.  You can also put it in a large pot on your stove and boil/simmer it for several hours until it all falls apart.

 In the morning you should have a pile of disconnected bones, cartilage, skin and meat.

Pour off the broth into a large pot (I use a metal colander to catch any falling pieces.)

Then separate the meat from the bones, fat, and "stuff".   I usually wait for everything to cool at little.  Some people might find this skeevy, but this is where chicken soup comes from.  I think we are far too removed from our food.  These are all the parts of a chicken.  My uncle used to suck the marrow out of the bones, which I thought was gross.  But perhaps we would be less wasteful if we knew all the quality nutrients we were just throwing away. 

In our house, there is usually a lot left on the carcass, so I put some meat into the pot of broth and then have two containers or a plastic bag that I put some in and freeze for later use.  

I scooped about 1 c. of broth into each extra container and then topped off with water, maybe another 1/2 c.   Those will go into my freezer for future emergency soup needs.   I also may use my leftover frozen chicken and broth for Chicken Enchiladas, Chicken Pot Pie, or Chicken and Dumplings.  I'll post the recipes below.  

I added about another 8 c. of water to the pot and about 4 bouillon cubes.  Is that cheating?  I think of it as adding flavored salt.

Peel and chop about 3 carrots, and chop 3 celery stalks. 

Add to the pot and simmer.  At this point, I just let the whole thing simmer for the rest of the day.  I think the veggies take about 1/2 hour or so to get tender, but simmering longer allows all the flavors to meld in my opinion. 

About 10 - 15 minutes before serving, I add the noodles.   Usually about a cup or 1/2 a bag of noodles is more than enough.

You can use anything really.   I usually use egg noodles, but I have also used leftover pasta.  You could use leftover rice too.

Your soup is ready to serve!

Homemade Chicken Soup

1 chicken carcass or about 3-4 lbs of chicken parts - roasted in the oven.
3 carrots, peeled and chopped.
3 celery stalks, chopped
10-12 cups of water, divided
4 bouillon cubes (optional)
1 c. of noodles (or 8 oz - 1/2 bag)

Cook carcass covered in water, in a crock pot overnight or on your stove top for several hours until falling apart.  Allow to cool.  Pour off broth into a large cook pot.   Separate meat from bones, skin, and other inedible parts.  Put meat into pot of broth, or separate into containers for future use.  Place chopped vegetables into pot and simmer for hours or until veggies are tender.  Add noodles about 10 minutes before serving.  At any point, you can skim the chicken fat off the top of the pot if it is too oily. 

Here is the Enchiladas recipe.  Our dear Columbian friend, Dedie, used to make these for us.

Chicken Enchiladas  by Dedie Belliveau

12 corn or flour tortillas
1 - 2 T. oil
2 c. grated cheddar cheese
1 lg. onion, chopped fine
1 lb or so of cooked chopped chicken (or turkey!)
2 c. chicken broth
1/4 cup flour (or Wondra - no lumps!)
1/2 t. salt
sliced jalapenos to taste (fresh or pickled)
1 - 8 oz. sour cream

Soften tortillas in a hot oil in skillet (you don’t have to do this with the flour tortillas – they are soft enough to roll).  Saute’ onion until soft.  Mix together cheese, onion and chicken in a bowl.  Spoon onto tortillas; roll to enclose filling.  Place in greased 9x13 pan.  In a saucepan, blend broth, flour and salt.  Cook until thick, stirring constantly.  Add jalapenos.  Blend in sour cream.  Pour over the tortillas.  Bake at 350ยบ for 40- 45 min. or until bubbly.  I have also made up just the rolled tortillas and frozen them in freezer bags for a later time. 

The recipes for Chicken Pot Pie and Chicken and Dumplings are both from  They are tried and true (by me! and others I am sure.)  There were many other less or unsuccessful attempts with other recipes prior.   These recipes are easy (non-processed easy) and they are delicious.

If I am not particularly feeling like 2 nights of soup, I may even divide the pot of broth / meat in two and use it for a second night of pot pie or chicken and dumplings.    Turn your roast chicken into a 3 day meal!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Make Your Own Taco Seasoning

Since I have started on Pinterest, several people have asked me about recipes and gardening tips.  I don't really think much about what I do, I just do it.  So, I decided I would start blogging and pinning some of the things that are now just second nature to gardening, making bread, milking goats, etc.....saving bread crumbs.

Sorry, no spiritual insights today ;)

But, you can make your own Taco Seasoning.  My mom used to buy those $1- each packets (probably .69 back then) all the time and it was all I knew, so that's what I bought too.  Now I make my own large batch of it and store it in an old spice container.  I use about  1-2 T. per pound of ground beef for tacos, or just use it to taste for other recipes.

I buy most of my spices from Job Lot or Price Rite, but if you want to be even healthier / natural / organic, you could get the higher quality spices, or use your own.  I do use my own hot pepper flakes.

That is NOT the cumin container, it's an old chili powder container that I am reusing. 

This recipe is roughly based on the recipe in Saving Dinner the Low-Carb Way by Leanne Ely.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

1 cup dried minced onion
1/3 c. chili powder
3 T. cumin
3 t. red pepper flakes (she calls for 4 t., but mine are super-hot.)
1 T. oregano
4 t.  garlic powder
2 t. onion powder

Mix together and store in airtight container.