Friday, November 9, 2012

Spicy chai tea

Chai tea bags were always my favorite "herbal" tea, but they always had a funny perfume-y taste to me.  Since homemade everything is always better, I decided to see if I could make my own.  This is a recipe that changes with my moods, and you can adjust it to your own tastes, too.  Simply add more of the flavors you enjoy the most, and less...or none....of the flavors that you don't like at all.  But be open to small amounts of spices that might seem out of place, like black peppercorns, as they can add a nice little zing without really being identifiable.

Here is how I make it.....this week, anyways.  It may be different next week!

Today's batch had these items in it.

We like this tea so much that I make it in two gallon batches about every other week.  Today I used about 3 cups of fresh ginger, scrubbed but not peeled, and ground in the food processor until it was the texture of coarse sawdust.  Slicing as thinly as possible with a sharp knife works, too.

I added 4 pieces of cinnamon bark, each about 4 inches long, and one nutmeg, cracked with vise grips.  Also 4 whole cloves, 4 black peppercorns, 3-4 tablespoons of allspice berries.  With the lid on the pot, I brought the whole thing to a simmer and let it bubble lightly for 30 minutes.  Then I simply shut off the heat and let it sit, covered, on the stove, for about 24 hours.  This is when the flavors really develop.  Spices tend to be anti-microbial, so I don't worry about leaving it out, covered.  Remember, too, that it just simmered for a half hour so it is pretty dang sterile at this point.

Put the cover on while simmering to keep the flavors strong.

The next day, I carefully pour it into glass bottles with tight fitting lids, running it through a fine mesh tea strainer set on a funnel.  I squeeze the moisture out of the last bits of ginger before tossing the spent spices into the trash.  The bottles are then stored in the fridge.  If you are a very visual person and need to see how this is done, there is a detailed video tutorial here, and it will walk you through all the steps in real time.

To use it, I simply fill my chosen mug or canning jar about 1/4 of the way with this chai concentrate, add a few drops of stevia, and then fill the vessel the rest of the way with boiling water.  Then I taste it and adjust....more sweetener, more chai, or both.  Every batch of spices is different, so there is no standardizing this recipe.  That makes it even more interesting.

It also makes a wonderfully refreshing iced tea, and if you'd like, you can use it along with a black tea bag to intensify the flavor.

We drink kombucha flavored with chai and it is wonderful.  I put 1 part kombucha, 1 part chai, and 2 parts cold water into a glass, again with a few drops of stevia.  This chai concentrate is so antimicrobial that I only add it to my kombucha just as I'm about to drink it so that it doesn't throw off the balance of the good beasties in the 'booch.

Serve it warm with raw whole's how to do it....add some extra cream if you have it....for a quick snack on the sugar handling protocol, if you are using stevia.  If not, simply use less chai and you will get away without sweetening it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fresh milk starts with.....

.....boy meets girl!  Meet Charm, our new buckling.  He has a very important job starting in a couple of weeks.  He is the envy of boy goats everywhere for landing this great job.  I'll let you use your imagination as to exactly what his duties will be.

More cute than studly at just over 6 months old!

You may have noticed that his ears, one eye, and his left hind toes are green.  This is because, as a registered Oberhasli, he got his ears tatooed just before his arrival here.  He has a series of identifying numbers and letters permanently inked into his ears.  The green on his eye and toe are from being wiggly during the process.  It should wear off, hopefully before he starts his new job.  Green is one of my favorite colors, but I don't really want it all over my girls and all over my barn clothes!

Oberhaslis are a smallish breed of dairy goat, and Charm is young, so we have a ramp so that he the job done.  Even Lily, only a week or so older than Charm, looks to be about twice his weight and significantly taller.  I'm not too concerned....where there is a will, there is a way, and all the goats here have already indicated willingness!  So....

Cover your eyes.....

Monday, November 5, 2012

Orange alert

 Carefully slice the pumpkin in half from top to bottom with a sharp knife.

It is time to get those pumpkins into the freezer for winter cooking projects!  Although any pumpkin is usable as food, I far prefer the small "sugar" pumpkins for this purpose.  You can do the same with large squashes, such as hubbard.  I get the leftover pumpkins from a nearby farm for my pigs and goats on November 1 when the farmstand closes for two or three weeks to prepare for the next major holiday decorating season.  Although this year they will be selling the rest of the sugar pumpkins, I took the ones that were developing "spots" and wouldn't make it until they reopened the farm store.

Scrub the dirt off the outside of your pumpkin before cutting it in half.

Grease a pan generously with lard, tallow, duck or goose fat, bacon drippings, or butter.  Scoop out the seeds with your fingers, removing the biggest chunks of orange pulp, but don't wash them.  The little bits of pulp add a nice flavor.  Roast the seeds at 375 F, stirring every few minutes, until they start to brown.  Use plenty of your chosen fat, enough to coat the seeds.  This will help the salt to cling to them.  Enjoy while hot!

Use the edge of a spoon to scrape the "guts" out.

Roast at 325 F for about an hour and a half.  Use caution taking the pan out of the oven, as the pumpkins will have released some water and it will be very hot.

When it cools enough to handle, slice it into thin wedges, and peel the skin off with your paring knife.

Put the pared pumpkin into a bowl and store it in your fridge for processing later if you don't have time to do so right away.  I actually prefer to do this, as more water will be released from the slices and can be poured off, making a much thicker puree.

Puree the slices a few at a time in the food processor, or by hand with a food mill or as our great-great-great grandmothers would, press it through a sieve.  I love my food processor!

Bag it in amounts suitable for recipes.  I do 1.5 cups (pie sized) and 1 cup (soups and stews) bags.  I put the smaller bags into a gallon ziploc freezer bag.

I mostly use this puree in soups and stews.  A small amount of roasted pumpkin or squash puree will disappear into a chicken soup, for example, but will add such a wonderful flavor that even seasoned cooks that you might serve it to won't be able to guess its source.  It is also a great way to sneak one more vegetable into your families' meals, and for many, it is a free source of veggies.  

Most people who decorate their yards or doorsteps with pumpkins simply toss them in the trash later.  Let people know that you'd like their pumpkins....there is no shame in not wasting perfectly good food! 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Vanilla extract

This is just one of many ways to make your own vanilla extract.  This is not the cheapest way, but it makes a strong extract, which is what I am going for....lots of flavor!

The only way to make this project worthwhile is to buy vanilla beans in bulk online, at least a pound at a time.  You can buy less, for sure, but you'll pay more per bean.  Maybe split an order with a few friends?  If stored properly, the beans will retain their flavor for a long time....well wrapped in several layers of sturdy plastic, placed in a glass jar, and hidden in the dark recesses of your spice cabinet.

I use a quarter pound per quart, or four ounces of beans.

Cut them into 1/2 - 1 inch pieces with a very sharp knife or scissors.

If you can still find it, use 95% alcohol, or 190 proof.  It is no longer legal here but the stores are allowed to sell out their stock, so we buy some whenever we can find it.  It makes the best extracts and tinctures.  You can use the highest proof vodka you can find, too, with great results.  Cheaper, too.

Toss the beans in a quart jar and cover them with the alcohol.  Use a jar with a very tight fitting lid so it doesn't evaporate.  The jar on the left is already extracting, in the time it took me to prepare the other jar!

Strained and ready to use.

After a month you can use it, but I leave it for 6 months or more, until I need it.  I like my vanilla like my man, strong and dark!  Then I use a tea strainer and a funnel to bottle it in dark swingtop bottles.  The two smaller, labelled bottles are for keeping in my spice cupboard.  I've been using those two bottles for about two decades now.  I originally bought vanilla in them, and then just started refilling them with my home made version.  The extract above has a date of 2009 on the tag.  I still have a quart of that vanilla.  This isn't a project I have to think about very often!

I use the same method to make other extracts, a favorite being peppermint extract for use in my favorite ice cream, mint chocolate chip. Recipe here.  With other extracts, you need to pack the jar with the leaves very tightly, weight them down with a rock, and strain it in a month.  You can also make orange extract with orange zest from organic oranges this way.

Not too many projects are this simple....if you make it as gifts, your friends will be VERY impressed.  Be sure not to tell them how easy it was!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Another chard your veggies!

I'm often asked how I get everything done.  Those who know me well know that I take a lot on, my to-do list is never ending.  I'm also asked how we eat so well on a budget.  Here is one small example, with principles that apply every single day.  This is an update of the chard stem experiment that I did a few weeks ago.

1.  Plan in advance (time efficiency.)  We both work, and on some days, we both work at the same time and at the same place.  On this particular day, we were both teaching classes.  Before we left for work, I took a few minutes to get a little water boiling in two pots, and I dumped a frozen pound of chard stems in one pot and a frozen pound of chard leaves in another.  I let them simmer just until hot, then turned the heat off and let it sit, covered, on the stove until we got home hours later.  I'm sure I spent less than five minutes on this, as I did other things in the kitchen to get ready for work.

Was I worried about food safety?  No. These two pots had just boiled, and the lid was left on.  I started with clean, organic produce that:

2.  I grew myself in my garden (money saving.)  That is the best way to get cheap organic produce, but not everyone has the land to do so.  Don't give up on the idea, though.  When I was a kid, my folks owned a small house in a tightly packed suburban neighborhood north of Boston, and there was not enough sunlight for enough hours to effectively grow even a tiny garden in that teensy yard.  So they teamed up with an older gentleman a town over and we spent a few hours once a week at his house, working alongside him in his huge garden that was now a bit much for him.  My two siblings and I were rather young during these years, and we were not with a sitter or in daycare.  We were in that garden, or playing nearby on the grass.

I strongly recommend this.  You will learn how to grow stuff much more successfully with the help of an older, experienced local gardener.  I discovered this when we lived in an apartment and had a small garden....and an older Sicilian neighbor named Santa Malta.  She was so tactful in offering suggestions.... she'd often start with, "I was reading an article in the paper on...."  There was no article in the paper.  She was just trying to help me avoid gardening disasters but in a way that was oh, so gentle.  I miss her.

Back to the casserole....while the chard was simmering, I put a hunk of raw corned beef brined myself, recipe here, from our side of beef....saved hundreds of grocery dollars!) in a crock pot and turned it on high and left it for several hours while we taught our classes.  I also put a casserole dish on the counter, ready and waiting to be filled.   Here is what I did when I got home, in just a few minutes:

I wrung out the chard leaves with my hands and patted them into the bottom of the dish.

I set the stems to drain over their pot.

I trimmed the excess fat from half the corned beef, shredded it, and stored the other half for another meal.

I topped the chard with some "failed" goat gouda from the freezer, and then the meat.  There is no such thing as a failed cheese....this one was simply left in the brine too long and was overly salty.  I saved it to use to salt and flavor soups and casseroles.

 I topped the meat with a layer of good, sharp provolone, half of an 8 oz block.

Next, the chard stems.

The rest of the shredded provolone.

Baked for about a half hour at 375 F, or until lightly browned.

While it was baking, I got my animals fed and the goats milked, and came in to a delicious supper.  Next time, I may caramelize some onions and add a layer, but it was rather delicious this way.  You can layer anything you think will taste good, and use any type of cheese that you like.  The possible combinations are endless....and cheese makes any vegetable taste divine!