My First Stab at Salt Block Cooking

Sometimes you get something for Christmas you’ve never even heard of. Himayalan Salt Block, huh? The Fella must think I’m a fancy chef; Sweet Miss explained how you can cook on it.

You know me; I’ll give anything a try. So last week, my new salt block spent hours in the oven curing. I set the heat at 170-degrees and then bumped it up 50 degrees every half hour until it got to 500-plus. This is not the most exciting part of the experiment, but it supposed to keep the block from breaking apart and gets it ready for cooking.

Since it’s awfully chilly out at the moment (not east coast chilly, but northwest 30-ish chilly), I decided to cook on the stovetop rather than the BBQ. Besides, I wanted the joy of using it for the first time rather than letting the MR steal all the fun.

Supposedly, you don’t even have to season your food on the salt block, that pink salt does it all for you. We had salmon, green beans, brussel sprouts, and yellow peppers.

I did add a little freshly ground pepper, and it was all quite tasty. The salmon stuck a little and was perhaps a bit thick for this cooking method. And the green beans kept rolling off the brick into the bottom of the burner–good thing I have long tongs. I did end up with a bit of a scorch mark on the bottom, but your supposed to dedicate one side for cooking and the other for heating, so maybe it was meant to be.

This might be a fun way to try teppanyaki or bulgogi right at the table. For just me and the MR one brick is perfect. If I want to start adding more people, I may need another brick. I’m going to do some more research and work on my technique.

This is definitely a fun and interesting way to make dinner. Many thanks to the Fella for such a thoughtful gift.

I wished you all a Merry Christmas, but I didn’t share much of ours. So I know you’re wondering about Christmas pjs. This year, I had a bit of a tall order. When I visited the girls in October, Sweet Miss declared that she and the Fella wanted matching pjs with beavers on them.

She’s also the one who stated emphatically years ago that she wants flannel pjs in Christmas-y colors. OK, that means beavers, red and green, in male and female appropriate print…hmmm. I found little woodland creatures gamboling about; no man I know would wear that print.

Then Kaufman Burly Beaver flannel came to the rescue. It’s kind of stretching it colorwise with only a bit of red, but hipster, bearded lumberjack beavers seemed the perfect fit for a pair of Oregon State grads living in Portland.

Baby Girl made it simple with snowflakes in red on a white background. Everyone looked great. So glad to be able to share the holiday with our kids.

 

And did I mention it was a white Christmas? This happens every 10 years or so. It’s so pretty, but I’m glad it only lasted for a few days. With all our hills, snow makes traveling quite tricky.

Today is the first day with Baby Girl back to school.  It makes for a quiet house, just me and Cocoa.

Hope your new year is starting off well. Any salt block cooking tips to share? How about other adventures in cooking I should try?

 

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You Can’t Always Believe What You Read

Saturday, when I was doing dishes, I asked the MR if he thought those were apples on the ground out in the orchard. Neither of us were quite sure, and somehow I never made it down to check things out that day. By Sunday, it was clear I had apples everywhere.

But you say isn’t that kind of early? Well yes, yes it is. According to four out of five websites, Chehalis apples (a derivative of Golden Delicious) don’t ripen until mid-September or early fall. This is August. What’s going on? The one website that slated harvest for August was based on California’s climate. We never get that hot. Sometimes you have to embrace reality over what you read.

Now that I have about 15-20 pounds of slightly bruised apples, I decided it was time to make some applesauce.

I love homemade applesauce because it’s just apples pure and simple. First I washed and quartered the apples and cut out the bad parts. Then onto the stove they went with a cup of water.

After about an hour, with frequent stirring, the apples were cooked, and soft, and ready to be milled.  A friend of mine was talking about processing apples a few years ago and extolling the virtues of her Kitchen-Aid mixer’s food mill attachment. After peeling and coring apples for years, I thought I’d give it a try.

She let me borrow hers, and I wound up buying my own. Your applesauce won’t have the chunks that give it character, but the mill has cut down on so much of the prep work.

Once you’ve cooked your apples, you run them through the mill—seeds, peel, and all. Then your left with sauce.

Meanwhile, I had jars boiling in my water-bath canner ready and waiting. Fill jars, wipe rims, add flats and rings, and your set. Process for 15 minutes at a full boil (for pints), and enjoy.

The half-filled jar makes a lovely addition to lunch. I figured this is a good start at dealing with my glut of apples.

I’ve got quite a few blueberries down in the orchard, so I was eyeing a recipe for blueberry-apple jam, and I have an Italian inspired canning book that has a recipe for apple-pear paste. With a name like paste, it’s go to be good. Seriously, it’s more intriguing than it sounds.

We’ve eaten all the red beauty plums, but I still have a bowl of yellow ones to find a use for. They’ve been a great addition to fruit salads lately. And we’re at the tail end of both the currants and blueberries. You may have noticed the large zucchini in the photo of my jars. I think we’ll be having blueberry-zucchini bread before the week is  out.

I always get such a sense of accomplishment when we’ve had success in the garden or the orchard. We still don’t have any ripe tomatoes, but the farmer’s market and farmstands have come through while we wait.

Another week, and we’ll be enjoying green beans and lettuce from the garden. I do love our long growing season. We’ll be in harvest mode through October if all goes well.

How does your garden grow? Any favorite apple recipes?

We do love our Sweet Miss. And yes, I did make her pose like that.

In other news, Sweet Miss celebrated her birthday this week as did The Fella. Wishing both of them many happy returns.

 

 

 

 

The Mystery Unwrapped

 Once you've reached a certain age, you've probably learned a little bit about yourself. For instance, I know I tend to procrastinate; if you can put something off to the last minute, I'll do it. 

That's why when I saw a blog post about making your own reusable food wraps, I was quick to buy some beeswax. If I had the materials on hand, I'd be sure to make it happen. I have tons of fabric, a paint brush, an oven; I'd have food wraps before you could bat an eye. 

The beeswax only sat on the desk in the kitchen for about a year. All the what-ifs plague me. What if it doesn't work? What if I make a mess? What if the cloth isn't organic? Will it make us sick? You know by now that I'm a worrier. Someday I'll be fearless. 

So the other day, I gathered my supplies and got busy.  Using the tutorial from My healthy green family for cotton wraps, I set the oven to a low temperature and got to work. 

First you sprinkle the fabric evenly with the wax. Then you put your tray in the oven. 

 When, the wax has melted,you smooth it with a paint brush, and then hang the clothes to dry. 

 I didn't want to steal My Healthy Green Family's thunder. She shows great, step-by-step, detailed instructions. but I would encourage you to not be afraid to modify things slightly. 

I bumped up the heat and added more wax than the directions recommended. When I put a cloth on the cookie sheet to absorb the excess wax, I just ended up with a mess. It's not rocket science, so don't be afraid to mix it up a little. 

And now after waiting around forever, I have a bunch of new cloths to use in place of plastic wrap. I even refreshed one of my beeswraps that's been around for quite awhile. 

What steps are you taking to reduce your use of plastic?

Currant Events

When the girls were in middle school, I’d be packing lunches or making dinner only to notice one or the other cutting up my newspaper. To my surprised “what are you doing?” They’d say it was for current events.

We’re enjoying a different kind of currant events around here. It is one banner crop this year.

We have three blueberry bushes that are all different varieties and ripen at all different times. The three currant bushes on the otherhand all ripen at once. And boy are there a lot of them.

The deck worker was askingwhat I was picking. They’re so red; he was hoping they were raspberries that he saw across the yard under all that netting. He hadn’t heard of currants, so I left him a few clusters. They’re an acquired taste he told me later.

They are quite tart and full of seeds, but I’m always happy when currant season arrives—I like a challenge. We make our favorite Braised Mediterannean Chicken and of course the raspberry-currant popsicles, but I have to new recipes, too.

So I’ve been searching through Yummly and Pinterest and have quite a few things in the works:

Little Big H’s Red Currant Blueberry Yoghurt Popsicles look amazing and would help use uptwo things I have in abundance.

Me and the MR enjoyed Hungry Shots’ Red Currant Banana Orange Smoothie with breakfast the other morning. The pulp from the fresh-squeezed OJ helped obscure all the seeds. And the sweet bananas off-set the tang.

The Ricotta Pancakes with Red Currants from Dare to Cook were good but not amazing. You have to get past all the seeds.

Red Currant Curd from Kleine Chaos Küchen was so good, but I’m a sucker for lemon curd so it was an easy sell.

Then there’s the Red Currant-Strawberry Oat Thyme Crisp from Our Four ForksRed Currant Popsicles from Hungry Shots, and so many more.

This week we tried Oat Cake with Currants from Everyday Flavours. Sometimes you have to try a recipe just because of the language. Google translate has its issues. When it started talking about the reaction furnace I was in. But who can resist, butter, eggs, and fruit? A little sweet, a little tart—I’d say it’s good enough to eat.

Any currant recipes to share?

Turn to Sweet Red Gems for our favorite popsicle and chicken recipes featuring currants.

 

Saving the Harvest

While our garden and orchard have been hit and miss due to the cool summer, animal intrusion, and redoing of the beds, we did enjoy a ton of broccoli, some really nice onions, and a few beets.

As you may remember, I can only eat so much broccoli. Come winter, I usually heat up corn, peas, or green beans and call it good when it comes to a side dish. I was thinking I should really make more of an effort in that department, and since I was tired of broccoli, I thought maybe pickled broccoli would be the answer. I know, my family doesn’t really eat pickles, but this is broccoli not cucumbers, so maybe it would be OK.

It all started when a few weeks ago, me and the MR went shopping with my dad; and on the way home, we stopped at a local farm and picked a couple baskets of tomatoes. No, we don’t love tomatoes that much either, but Sweet Miss complimented my Smokey Tomato Jam (or rather Putting Up with Erin’s Smokey Tomato Jam), so of course I had to make some for her October care package.

And since I was there, and I’d really liked the jam, I decided to check out what other recipes Erin had on her blog. That’s when I came across Pepper Pickled Broccoli, Beet, Carrot, and Apple Slaw, and Roasted Onion and Sage Jam. Have I mentioned that we have a banner crop of sage, too?

Now, I’m not sure how they all turned out. The onion jam was quite lovely on a cracker with a touch of cream cheese, and I can imagine it would make a wonderful glaze over a pork roast. The pickled broccoli and the beet slaw are supposed to hang around for three weeks or so before we try them out. You want all those flavors to meld, so I’ve been practicing patience. I’m just excited to have a ready supply of beets that I can eat in moderation; the MR chooses to abstain.

I really like tomato jam spread on a grilled cheese sandwich with all that gooey cheese. I have pretty fancy tastes as you can see.

All my jars have been sitting on the counter, but soon they’ll be adding some color and beauty to the pantry and a dose of flavor to our winter menus.canned-goods

Any favorite recipes for your fall harvest? Do you have a canning web site you like to use?

(Sadly, my links are on the blink, so Putting Up with Erin is the blog where I found these amazing recipes. Google Smokey Tomato Jam, and you’ll end up in the right spot.)

Waste Not

Me and the MR were visiting friends last month. They have a quirky cabin on a lake in Idaho. 

When our hosts asked if we wanted some crab apples from their large trees out front, of course I said yes. 

Perhaps it’s because my dad was born during the Great Depression, or maybe it was because my own family felt the crunch when Boeing laid off so many in the early ’70s, or I guess it could be those early days of marriage when the cupboards werebare, but for whatever reason, I can’t say no to free food. 

Crab apples could be perfect in apple cake or perhaps apple butter. I could always look up recipes online. So together we picked a few bags, and me and the MR headed home. 

You know how it is when you get home from a few days away. You have laundry; you have to restock the fridge; the garden needs attention; you have to catch up on all those little household chores. 

Well those crab apples sat on the counter for one week—Sweet Miss was home visiting. And then they sat on the table for another week. The MR thought he saw bugs. Should he just throw them away?

I looked up recipes, but nothing caught my eye. Maybe I would make that apple cake. Then I cut into one of those babies. Have you ever tried to core a crab apple? Those suckers are hard—like rock hard. 

I decided they’d be a lovely addition to applesauce. Baby Girl reminded me of potential arsenic poisoning, but I removed all the seeds by running the cooked down apples through my Kitchenaid strainer. 

The crab apples mixed with a few of our own beauties keeps the sauce tangy. And the redness of the flesh and the peels turns the sauce a rosy pink color. 


Baby Girl put it to the taste test and gave it her stamp of approval. 

And now we have lovely pink sauce to remind us of fun times.

    Do you have a favorite recipe for crab apples?

Herb-alicious

While the kitchen garden has had its issues, our herbs are doing great. But what do you do with all those herbs? Watch them go to seed?

Unfortunately, most years, the answer is yes. I just watch them flower and die. But recently, I saw a post about chopping them up, adding some oil, and freezing them for later. What a great idea!

Rosemary

Rosemary & Oil

I have this great marinade for flank steak with rosemary, oil, garlic, and red wine. It’s been a family favorite forever. Now, I just have to grab a few cubes of the rosemary infused oil and I’m half-way there.

Rosemary Cubes Closeup

Let’s be honest. It’s a lot more likely that I’m going to go outside with my sheers on a beautiful summer day than in a chilly November rainstorm. And those fresh herbs from the grocery store cost an arm and a leg.

Now I have rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, mint, sage, and chives to deal with. I see a sweet smelling afternoon in my future.

Herbs in Colander

 

What’s your favorite way to use fresh herbs?