Thursday, August 29, 2013

Organic Gardening

When it comes to my garden, I am very strict about what will and won't be used in it. I do not want chemicals in my food, plain and simple. I use only organic heritage seeds. There will never be anything that is GMO that is growing in MY garden I promise you that! I've had LOTS of people ask me for advice, so here is where you come in. What do you want to know? I have been most successful at container gardening and companion planting with square foot gardening techniques. Let me guess, you have no idea what that means? Neither did I until I started doing my research! As they say in The Princess Bride "Let me, there is too much...let me sum up!"

Container gardening is when most everything you grow is NOT in the ground. That's right...I don't till my garden, I don't have to rip up weeds and start completely fresh every year. (Especially since we have LOTS of clay earth around here...that would be a lot of enriching of the soil each and every year...) I have raised garden beds and I have lots and lots of larger pots that I use to garden. I repeat, NO TILLING NECESSARY with this method. Cool, right?

Companion planting is where you plant different plants next to or near each other that benefit from the other. Whether it is for pest control or optimal growing, companion planting is AWESOME!

Square Foot gardening is exactly what it sounds like. You plant different plants within a square foot of the other (or as close to it as you can get.)

When you plan it right, you end up with a very successful garden!

This is what my garden looked like in the first few weeks of growth.
Here in Oregon, we still get frosts until later in April, so I generally don't plant my garden until mid to late April, sometimes even early May. This year I took a chance and did it in mid April, and it was successful!

This is my garden now. Can we say, grown much?
I am no expert, I am still learning, but one thing that has been my biggest learning curve...has been corn. My first year, I planted it somewhere that it ended up not getting enough sun so it didn't produce. The second year it got destroyed by aphids! This year, I finally grew successful corn, only to find out that the tough and doesn't have much flavor to it at all. Talk about a bummer! But, at least I have learned from my mistakes and now I know that I need to find a better seed strain for next year!

I am also a firm believer that we should teach our kids where our food comes from, they shouldn't believe that it just comes from a store because if that's how they think, then they can never be self sufficient.

My oldest two daughters get their own garden area this year. They planted green beans, tomatoes and we had a mystery plant. We had no idea what it was...until now!
Green Beans that they planted per Mom's request. (Mom ran out of room in her area!)

Another thing I have learned is that tomatoes like to grow in the same space. I had tomatoes in here three years ago, and low and behold, I had multiple tomato plants start to grow that I never planted this year! I decided to save a couple of them for the girls. :) The far right was the mystery plant, it was either Broccoli or Cauliflower but there would be no way to know which until it came to a head. (Which is funny since I didn't plant any broccoli or cauliflower starts!)

Now we know! It's broccoli! The head is just starting to form, so we just have to make sure it has lots of water and lots of nutrients so that it doesn't bolt and flower!
 So here is where I need YOU! What questions about gardening do you have? Ask me anything, pest control, companion planting, soil enrichment, ANYTHING! If I don't know it, I generally have ways of finding out! (Yes, I'm a nerd who reads gardening books for fun!)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sweet Pickle Relish

So I had never pickled anything...ever! I decided that I would try it this year, and guess what? It was SUPER easy! I didn't make my own pickling spice (which I have the recipe for, I just didn't want to spend the time measuring everything buying all of the spices that I didn't already have!) but I bought a super easy mix from Bi-Mart for around $2.40 per bag...which made about 5-7 pints of relish each. Perhaps next summer I will make my own pickling spice and try it from scratch. ;)  I got the pickling cucumbers from Unger Farms for just $0.50 per pound! It worked out great!

Step one: Chop up all the cucumbers. If you want a chunky relish then do it by hand, if you want it in smaller pieces, then put it in your food processer and pulse until you have your desired piece size. I personally go for chunky, so my hubby and I sat up late watching some tv and cut up all the pickles. Measure them into 6-8lbs per batch.

Once you have the 6-8lbs then put 1/2 cup of pickling salt on the cucumbers and mix thoroughly.  Once it is mixed, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for a minimum of 2 hours, this gives it time to draw moisture out of the cucumbers.
After you have let it sit, it is time to drain the liquid that was pulled out.
Now is the time to work on the pickling part. In a large pot (not aluminum, or it will burn) put in the sugar (or if you prefer you can use honey in the place of sugar, my rule of thumb is about 1/2 cup honey per 1 cup sugar). You mix in the vinegar and the premixed package. Follow the directions on the package if you are using a premixed package.
This is the Relish mix that I used. I found it at Bi-Mart, but I'm sure you can find it other places!

This is what it looks like once it is all mixed.

Once it has come to a boil you stir in the drained cucumbers.

 Heat through for the time specified on the package and then ladle into your prepared jars! (sterilize your jars by placing them in boiling water for about a minute each, and prep your lids by having them sit in hot water for at least 5 minutes.)
Make sure you remove any bubbles that are in there. I use a canning funnel to limit some of the mess. Add liquid as needed. Once all the jars are filled, clean the rims of each jar by wiping it down with a clean cloth. I just use a paper towel. Take your prepared lids and finger tighten the rings on the jars. Place them in a water bath caner and make sure that they are covered with water and process for 15 minutes. *if under 1,000 ft. altitude* Remember that the time does not start until the water is at a full boil. Once the 15 minutes are up, turn off the heat but do not remove the lid. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Remove from the water with a jar lifter (which you can get for under $4 at most stores). I place mine on several layers of towels to save my table from damage.
This batch I used honey as the sweetener.

This batched used regular refined sugar.

Let this sit for a minimum of 24 hours before using and then chill before serving! Super easy, and SO much better than the store bought relish!

Chicken Parmesan

Not the prettiest picture I will admit, but I will work on that for future posts.=)

One of my family favorites is an adaptation from a recipe that I have. (I'm always changing recipes, but I will do my best to write down my changes so you can enjoy the delicious flavors!)

2 large skillets
Wooden Spoon
Pyrex Baking Dish
Gallon Sized Ziplock Bag

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or if you buy from Zaycon like I do, just use 2 of the giant breasts)
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons Bread Crumbs
Salt and Ground Black Pepper
8ozn Mozzarella Cheese, sliced
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Sauce Ingredients:
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Onion, finely chopped
2 Celery stalks, finely chopped
1 Large Red Bell Pepper, seeded and diced
1 Garlic Clove, crushed (or buy it from Costco diced and put in about a spoon full...that's what I do!)
14oz can Chopped Tomatoes
2/3 cup chicken stock (I prefer the low sodium)
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
2 teaspoons sugar
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Start by making the sauce.

Heat the olive oil and then add the onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic over medium heat until soft. (About 5 minutes) Once softened add the tomatoes with their juice, stock, tomato paste, sugar and herbs. Bring it to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.

Divide the chicken into natural fillets, place them between sheets of either plastic wrap, parchment paper or wax paper (whatever you have will work) and flatten the fillets to about 1/4". They suggest using a rolling pin...personally I just use my meat whacker (I know that's not what it's actually called, but come on, what else do you do with it except whack meat with it?)

Next you will want to put the olive oil into the other pan and begin to heat over medium high heat (for me it's around a 6 on my stove) so that it will be ready for the chicken. You will also want to preheat your oven to 350 degrees F

Here is where the ziplock bag comes into play. Take all the dry ingredients listed with the chicken (flour, bread crumbs, parmesan, salt and pepper) and place them into the ziplock. I grind about 3-4 turns of pepper and 2-3 turns of salt into the flour mixture. Shake it all up and add the chicken one fillet at a time coating completely. Take it out and place into the preheated skillet. You will cook it for about 3 minutes per side or until it begins to brown (not burn, but turn golden). Once it is cooked keep it warm while you cook the rest of the chicken.

Once all of the chicken is cooked, pour the sauce into the pyrex baking pan, and then layer the chicken on top of the sauce. Place the mozzarella over the chicken and sprinkle a little more parmesan and bread crumbs over the top if you like. Bake uncovered for 20-30 minutes until the top is golden and the cheese is melted.

It seems like a lot of work, but it's really not! Super simple, not too expensive, healthy and DELICIOUS! Make sure you get lots of that veggie mix/sauce when you bite into that is a heavenly combo!

*adapted from the Baked Parmesan Chicken recipe found in the book "Chicken, over 400 fabulous recipes for all occasions" edited by Simona Hill.*

Getting Started

        I don't know about you, but for me, getting started is the most difficult part of any project! I think about what I want to do for what seems like forever before I finally get going. Well, the same can be said for this blog. I have been thinking about doing this off and on for over a year, but here I am, buckling down and getting started! If you ever have any questions or have suggestions on what you would like to see, please do NOT hesitate to let me know! I will do my best to share my knowledge with you!

     A little bit about myself. I grew up in Beaverton, OR with 3 older brothers. You could say that I was a bit of a tomboy! I still live in Beaverton, but it is now with my wonderful husband and 3 beautiful little girls. I'm not so much a tomboy now, but that doesn't mean that I can't hurt anyone who messes with my babies. ;) I love being a stay at home Mom, but contrary to what many think...I work my butt off!

 I love to garden and my entire front yard is a huge garden. I love to cook! It makes me so sad that there are so many young women today who don't know how to cook and what they do make...quite frankly tastes terrible! I started learning to cook when I was 9 years old and by the time that I was 12 I was regularly making a meal for my family. I also love to organize...which is funny since my house is regularly a disaster zone...but what can I say, I have 3 little Tasmanian devils who follow me around and destroy everything I clean and organize! I LOVE to can and preserve food. I can veggies from my garden, make jam, can fruit, can meat. I think my favorite part is actually going out and harvesting the fruit/veggies. It is so rewarding to see my shelves lined with yummy, HEALTHY food that I know the quality of and that I know exactly what is in it! My other love is exercise. I am a firm believer in the philosophy that if you don't take care of yourself, you can't expect to be able to care for others to the extent that you would have. I try to make it to our MMA gym at least twice a week. (yes, that's right, I do kickboxing classes, and boxing classes and I LOVE it!) I am far from the craftiest person around, but I do love to make baby blankets and patchwork quilts. (I also do contract work for that kind of thing!) Most importantly, my family is everything to me. I love them dearly and I do all that I do for them!

Thanks for reading and I look forward to questions and comments on future posts!