Herb Compound Butter

WIN_20160507_194649‘Tis the season for fresh herbs! Enjoy this vintage post, which offers a terrific and tasty way to preserve your summer herbs for year-round flavor!

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Step 1: Combine 1/2 cup real butter with 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh herbs. Blend until evenly combined.

Fragrant, beautiful, and delicious, fresh herbs are bountiful in early summer. It’s easy to take Continue reading

Garden Meditations, Part II

garden16.jpgHere at Crowded Earth Kitchen, our garden has undergone an amazing transformation in only 20 days. Take a look!

Our tiny eggplant transplants have flourished, quadrupling in size!

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The tomatillos proved vexing this spring, and were almost lost due to an infestation of pesky aphids. Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen we don’t use artificial pesticides, and instead tackled the problem using ladybugs.

Yes, ladybugs.
1500 Live Ladybugs – Good Bugs – Ladybugs – Guaranteed Live Delivery!

For just a few dollars, we were able to release 1,500 ladybugs into the garden. They lingered just long enough to devour the pesky aphids and lay a few eggs. Voila! Problem solved!

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Beans, Tomatoes, Kale, and Potatoes

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Peppers, Tomatoes, and Okra

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Zucchini and Yellow Squash

What is growing well in your garden? What could use a bit of extra love? Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’d love to hear all about it!

Go play in the soil. Breathe deeply, friends!

French Braised Onions

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I’ll be honest, friends. While I adore most vegetables, onions have never ranked really high on the list. I don’t “dislike” them, they just aren’t a favorite. Or rather, they weren’t a favorite until I made these amazing French Braised Onions. It all started a few days ago, when I pulled these lovely little onions from my backyard garden. Aren’t they cute?

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Alas, they are also a bit slow to clean and peel! It seemed a waste to just chop them up and toss them in a recipe as if they were big, store bought onions. I wanted to showcase these little cuties. The recipe below is incredibly simple, you just need to be patient with the slow cooking required. The end result is worth the wait… onions infused with broth and wine, sweet and savory, with a silky texture. French Braised Onions are delightful as an accompaniment to meaty dishes such as beef bourguignon, or can be served as an appetizer on thin slices of baguette.

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Onions before braising

Ingredients (Makes about 3 cups)

30 – 40 small white onions (1/2 inch to 1 inch in diameter)

2 tablespoons real butter

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary

1/2 cup chicken stock

3/4 cup dry red wine

Directions

Step 1) Melt butter in a 9 inch skillet. Sprinkle rosemary evenly over melted butter.

Step 2) Lightly trim the bottoms and tops of the onions, removing only about 1/4 inch from each end. Arrange onions, top sides up, in the buttered skillet.

Step 3) Pour the chicken stock and wine over the onions.

Step 4) Bring the skillet just barely to a boil over medium heat, then immediately reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

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Onions after 90 minutes of total braising time

Step 5) After 15 minutes, cover the skillet and continue cooking over low heat for an hour or longer as needed, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Gently shake the skillet every few minutes, to prevent sticking and evenly distribute the liquid. Don’t rush this! It really should take at least an hour for most of the liquid to absorb. If the liquid is disappearing quickly, reduce the heat.

Step 6) When almost all of the liquid has been (slowly!) absorbed, your French Braised Onions are ready to enjoy!

Easy Pickled Beets

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Easy Pickled Beets are great in salads!

I adore homemade pickled beets. Much more crisp and flavorful than store-bought beets in tin cans (ugh), these Easy Pickled Beets are delicious right out of the jar. Better yet, try them on a green salad with a bit of Chevre cheese… yum!

While this recipe is suitable for water bath canning, you don’t actually need to “can” anything. If you wish, you can prepare this recipe and simply store your beets in a container in the fridge. Also, if you don’t want quite as many pickled beets as the recipe below provides, simply cut the recipe in half. Remember, Continue reading

Zucchini “Apples”

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Zucchini “Apples”

The zucchini plants in my garden have gone completely bonkers. The first few zucchini were fun… we enjoyed Cheesy Zucchini Roses for dinner, and filled the freezer with Chocolate Zucchini Bread… but the zucchini just keep growing! Here’s another delicious way to make good use of this abundant garden vegetable. Zucchini “Apples” can be frozen or canned, and make a delicious “Apple” crisp (see below). And yes, they taste just like apples.

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Ingredients (Makes 6 quarts)

6 large zucchini

2 cups lemon juice

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

1 tablespoon cinnamon

 

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Directions

Step 1) Peel zucchini and remove 1/2 inch from each end. Slice peeled zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out all of the seeds. The pulpy middle, which contains seeds, is a brighter white color than the outer flesh – scrape out all of the pulp with a spoon and add this to your compost pile. Slice the zucchini flesh into bite size pieces, approximately 1 inch long and 1/3 inch thick. You should have about 24 cups of zucchini pieces.

Step 2) Combine zucchini pieces and all remaining ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and allow zucchini to simmer until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Proceed with any of the following options:

Option 1) To freeze your zucchini apples, allow the zucchini to cool slightly. Then, ladle the zucchini apples into quart size freezer bags. Squeeze out the air, seal tightly, and freeze. You’ll end up with 6 to 8 freezer bags of zucchini apples.

WIN_20160724_120815Option 2) To can your zucchini apples, ladle them hot into sterilized canning jars. Leave 1/2 inch of head space. Seal with lids and bands, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

 

Option 3) To make zucchini apple crisp, place 8 cups of zucchini apples from Step 2 in a medium size pot. In a small bowl or cup, whisk together 1/2 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of corn starch. Drizzle this mixture over the zucchini apples, and bring the pot to a boil. Boil for 1 minute or until liquid is thickened. Transfer mixture to a greased 2 quart baking dish.

In a medium size bowl, combine 1 cup oats, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 3 tablespoons butter. Use two forks or a pastry cutter to combine ingredients until the mixture resembles large crumbs. Spread this mixture over the zucchini apples and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Delicious!

 

Canning Jar Cookies

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Watching my garden grow is making me anxious for canning season to begin! Alas, unless I want to preserve kohlrabi in jars (not very motivated by that idea), I’m going to have to wait for additional vegetables to appear.

Here’s a whimsical idea – canning jar cookies! I found this adorable canning jar cookie cutter and made a batch of “pickle relish” cookies, shown above.

Ann Clark Mason Jar Cookie Cutter – 4.5 Inches – Tin Plated Steel

For Canning Jar Cookies, I started by mixing up a batch of the same dough I used to make cute little snowflake cookies last December. It’s a satisfying sugar cookie dough that rolls well and holds its shape – perfect for these canning jars! I rolled the dough about 1/3 inch thick, and baked these cookies for about 14 minutes.

WIN_20160605_104951Next, I diced up a few green gumdrops to make “pickle relish.” I used a pastry brush to coat each baked cookie with a light icing made from 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar, 2 tablespoons of milk, and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. I sprinkled diced gumdrops on each “jar” and finished with a few gold dragees near the top for the lids. I would have used silver dragees, but I didn’t have any in my pantry.

Aren’t these canning jar cookies cute? They would make a tasty gift, I think!

Kohlrabi Roll-Ups

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One Kohlrabi Roll-Up makes a lovely side dish. Two Kohlrabi Roll-Ups sprinkled with cheese and served with crusty bread makes a delicious vegetarian dinner!

It’s kohlrabi season in my neck of the woods. As excited as I am to see farm stands re-opening for the summer season, the selection in early June is pretty limited. Kohlrabi, peas, more kohlrabi, more peas… you get the idea. It’s a shame so many cooks discard the leaves from their kohlrabi. The leaves are both nutritious and delicious! Today we’re using them a bit like cabbage leaves, and are using fresh kohlrabi leaves to roll up a hearty filling of seasoned rice, tomatoes, corn, and peppers. Feel free to add ground beef and/or top with grated cheese if you’d like.

This is a frugal recipe, and makes use of an ingredient that many people overlook – my grandmother would approve. (Grandma might have used different spices and found a way to work in a dumpling or two, but she’d still approve.)

Let’s make the most of our early summer veggies!

WIN_20160501_135603Ingredients (Serves 6)

12 – 18 large kohlrabi leaves

1 cup basmati rice, uncooked

2 cups diced tomatoes with juice (fresh or canned; either way, keep the juice)

1 cup corn kernels (I used frozen)

1/2 cup bell pepper, red or green, diced

1 tablespoon onion, finely diced (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder (mild or hot)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup water (or chicken broth)

1 cup tomato juice

WIN_20160501_142617Directions

Step 1) Combine rice, 2 cups diced tomatoes with juice, corn, bell pepper, onion, cumin, chili powder, black pepper, and water or broth in a large skillet. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Cook over low heat for approximately 20 minutes (check after 15 minutes), until liquid is absorbed WIN_20160501_140920and rice is tender. Remove from heat.

Step 2) While rice mixture is cooking, carefully cut the center stem (sometimes called a vein) from each kohlrabi leaf. Overlap the two sides so that each leaf forms an approximate oval shape without a visible hole in the middle.

WIN_20160501_142747Step 3) Place a small amount of the rice mixture (about 2 tablespoons) on the center of each kohlrabi leaf. Fold the sides of the leaf in toward the middle (shown), then carefully roll up the leaf from the bottom. Place each kohlrabi roll-up seam side down in a lightly greased baking dish (I used two small baking dishes and froze one to enjoy later).

WIN_20160501_143930Step 4) Pour 1 cup of tomato juice over the top of your kohlrabi roll-ups. and cover the baking dish(es) with foil. Bake in a preheated, 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. If desired, uncover and top with shredded cheese for the last 10 minutes of baking time.

 

Herb Compound Butter

WIN_20160507_194649‘Tis the season for fresh herbs!

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Step 1: Combine 1/2 cup real butter with 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh herbs. Blend until evenly combined.

Fragrant, beautiful, and delicious, fresh herbs are bountiful in early summer. It’s easy to take big bunches of basil, long sprigs of rosemary, and cheerful sprigs of parsley, mint, oregano, and thyme for granted this time of year. (I forgot cilantro, tarragon, lavender… you get the idea!)

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Step 2: Transfer butter mixture to the center of a large piece of waxed paper.

Frugal cooks know that the season for fresh herbs is relatively brief. Once the very hottest days of summer arrive, delicate herbs begin to wilt and bolt, their best flavors gone for another year. Don’t worry, though – the flavors of early summer herbs are easy to preserve. Herb Compound Butter is the easiest, most reliable method for preserving herbs here at Crowded Earth Kitchen. Let’s get started!

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Step 3: Roll the waxed paper closed and refrigerate the compound butter until firm. Slice into small rounds for serving or cooking. Freeze in a covered container until needed.

Herbs don’t freeze well on their own – they discolor and lose flavor pretty quickly. However, herbs blended into butter freeze magnificently! The butterfat protects the delicate herbs, preserving their color and flavor. Every cook knows that herbs and butter taste wonderful together, so why not combine them for preservation? That’s really all “compound butter” is – butter blended with one or more ingredients. So easy!

What herbs should you use? Whatever herbs you like! Fresh springs of rosemary blended with real butter are one of my favorite flavor combinations. You may find that parsley blended with butter suits your palate, or perhaps a combination of oregano and thyme is more your style. Experiment! Enjoy!

Yummy Strawberry Freezer Jam

strawberry jamIt’s that time of year again, friends – Wahoo! Strawberry season! To be fair, strawberry season is still a few weeks away in my Northern climate. However, my sister is visiting from Arkansas, and brought several boxes of fresh picked berries with her (isn’t she awesome?).

The thing about strawberries is, they’re delicious for about one day after they are picked. If you have a large quantity of strawberries to preserve, you need to work fast! Yummy Strawberry Freezer Jam is super fast! Ready… Set… GO!

Ingredients (Makes 4  cups)

5 cups of strawberries, washed and cut in half (green hulls removed)

5 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 pouch (3 ounces) liquid pectin

Directions

Step 1) Place halved strawberries in a large pot. Mash the strawberries a few times with a potato masher. Add sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice.

Step 2) Bring strawberry mixture to a full, vigorous boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. You want this mixture to really boil… it should boil enough that bubbles continue to cover the surface of the mixture even when you are stirring!

Step 3) When your strawberry mixture has reached a FULL boil (this will take at least ten minutes, maybe longer), stir in the pouch of pectin. Allow the mixture to return to a FULL boil, and boil with stirring for two minutes.

Step 4) Remove the pot from the heat and add grated lemon zest. Stir gently. Allow your Yummy Strawberry Freezer Jam to cool before ladling into storage containers. This jam will keep nicely in the refrigerator for two weeks, or can be frozen for up to six months. [As if strawberry jam would be neglected for six months – ha!]

 

Lazy Cheesy Eggplant

WIN_20160328_085536I love cooking with eggplant – it’s very low in calories and versatile – but I don’t always think of eggplant when I’m looking for something fast. Lazy Cheesy Eggplant requires only a few minutes to prepare, and a half hour in the oven… the results are addictively delicious! Each high fiber serving of Lazy Cheesy Eggplant contains approximately 125 calories.

Side note: We’re using frozen eggplant here, because the texture Continue reading

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

WIN_20150724_123445If you don’t like zucchini, well, I’m not sure we can be friends. 😉 In all seriousness, zucchini is one of the most versatile vegetables available. It’s also low in calories, surprisingly packed full of vitamins, and a prolific producer in just about any North American garden. This recipe uses grated zucchini. Feel free to use grated patty pan squash, yellow crookneck squash, or any other “zucchini-like” summer squash.

PS – You can grate your extra zucchini now and freeze it in 1 1/2 cup quantities (just measure it into zip-lock freezer bags) to bake this recipe later, if your hammock is calling you out into the sunshine!

WIN_20150724_101403Ingredients (Makes 2 loaves)

1 1/2 cups grated zucchini

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup applesauce

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 large package instant chocolate pudding

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

WIN_20150724_103524Directions

Step 1) Grease and flour two bread pans.

Step 2) Combine grated zucchini, almond extract, applesauce, oil, and eggs. Stir until well combined.

Step 3) Add sugar and pudding mix; stir well.

Step 4) Add dry ingredients, a little at a time, until well incorporated. Fold in the mini chocolate chips last.

Step 5) Divide batter between two bread pans. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Bread is done when a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Like just about any zucchini bread, this bread freezes well!

Vintage Post: Dandelion “Honey”

dandelionThis is a vintage post, but seasonally appropriate and lots of fun. Don’t spray toxins on your lawn… let those dandelions grow au naturel! The beautiful golden color and early summer fragrance of dandelions attracts bees, providing life sustaining nectar this time of year. Bees are HUNGRY in May and June, and if we want them around to pollinate our fruit orchards and vegetable gardens later in the season, we had better provide them with something to eat right now.

You can benefit from dandelions even more directly by making dandelion honey. Give this recipe a try – it’s delicious, and a great conversation starter!

In The Garden, Week 1!

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Pineapple Mint, Orange Mint, and Sage

Gardening season has finally arrived! Growing my own food is really my favorite part of cooking. Few things are as satisfying as creating a meal from fresh, healthy ingredients grown by my family. This summer, Crowded Earth Kitchen will feature a weekly post with garden updates. A few summers ago, our $200 gardening investment led to a harvest worth over $2,000. Can we do better this year?

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German Chamomile (I can hardly wait for tea!)

Gardening is part art, part science, and part dumb luck. Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen we rely pretty heavily on dumb luck! We are lucky to have enough growing space that we can garden badly and still end up with a bountiful harvest. It’s not that we try to garden badly (sometimes, our garden is beautiful), but it’s nice to have room for mistakes.

Important: Crowded Earth Kitchen grows organic food, entirely free from herbicides and pesticides. We believe strongly that these toxins have no place in a backyard garden. Stay tuned for tips on poison-free weed and pest control!

Below are a few photos from the garden we began planting just this week. Watch for growing updates! As we begin to harvest food, we’ll feature seasonal recipes from the garden. When we begin picking by the wagonload in autumn, you can count on lots of canning and preserving recipes here at Crowded Earth Kitchen!

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Lavender in the front garden

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Russian Sage in the front garden

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Beet sprouts tucked among the petunias in the side garden

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Compost buckets with drainage holes. Each bucket is surrounded by four plants (32 tomato plants, 12 pepper plants, and a few odds-n-ends). When the buckets are filled with water, they pull nutrients from the compost deep into the soil, encouraging the plant roots to grow deep and strong.

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30 foot rows of red and yellow seed potatoes, purple and white onions, okra, multicolored carrots, and green beans. The space between the rows needs to be weeded already!

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The side bed of chard and peas took an unexpected heavy rain, which crowded the seeds into one small area! No worries, we’ll just thin them out and plant the bald areas with a few lovely kale transplants.