Thursday, March 27, 2014

A to Z Challenge

The month of April brings me a new challenge this year. For the first time, I will be participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge! I will write a post every day in the month of April (except Sundays) thematically from A to Z -- the letter "A" on April 1st, the letter "B" on April 2nd, etc., etc. 

Since this is my first year, I'm not getting too crazy with my theme. I'm keeping it pretty broad and vague. I will be blogging from A to Z about various things my mother taught me (real creative, right? :), including topics on gardening, sewing, cooking, etc. 

I would love for you to come along side me on this challenge! I'd love to hear from you! Leave me comments and share your own tips, secrets, and things you learned from your parents. 

Stay tuned on April 1st for my first post in the challenge!

A is for Applique
B is for Sewing a Button
C is for Compost Tea
D is for Date Pinwheels
E is for Egg Bread
F is for Friendship
G is for Granola Bars
H is for Household Plants
I is for Infinity Scarf
J is for Jalapeno Poppers
K is for Knotting Thread
L is for Laundry Detergent
M is for Maple Syrup
N is for No Bakes
O is for Oatmeal Bake
P is for Patching Pants
Q is for Quilts
R is for Rest
S is for Sewing Machine
T is for Thinning Tomatoes
U is for Under-Ripe
V is for Valances
W is for Whip Stitch
X is for Xtra Material
Y is for Yellow Snow
Z is for Zig-Zag Stitch

Monday, March 24, 2014

My Tomatoes' Journey: Eggshells (Part 6)

While learning about growing tomatoes, I ran across the suggestion of using eggshells to prevent blossom end rot. Last year, my tomatoes got hit hard with this, and I'd like to avoid it if at all possible. 

Blossom End Rot
Blossom end rot generally happens because of too much moisture, which is what happened last year with all the rain. (Apparently this can happen with really dry conditions as well. These tomatoes sure are finicky!) Monitoring moisture levels and introducing enough calcium to the soil will help prevent blossom end rot. Low and behold, eggshells provide a rich source of calcium! So, I will be adding eggshells to my soil this year when planting.

Simply save your eggshells, and let them dry for about a day. I like to rinse mine out before setting them back into the egg carton. 

To crush the eggshells, put 12 shells in a plastic bag and smash them with a rolling pin. I store the shell crumbs in increments of 12 eggshells, because each plant will need about a dozen shells. Then, store in a plastic baggie or container until ready to use. 

Use the eggshell crumbs in a month or so after you plant your tomato plants outdoors. Add approximately 12 crushed eggshells to each hole before planting your tomato plant. This seems like a lot to me, so I'll see how I feel when I actually plant the tomatoes outside. 

So, start saving your eggshells!

Check out my other posts on My Tomatoes' Journey.

Friday, March 14, 2014

My Tomatoes' Journey: Transplant #1 (Part 5)

My tomato seeds were planted a few weeks ago. Since then, my tomatoes sprouted, and now I'm simply trying to keep my plants "fed" with plenty of sunlight and just the right amount of water. I used egg cartons to start my seeds, but they quickly outgrew that container. So now it's time for me to move 'em on up to a bigger container. Another word for this is transplanting. I'm calling this "Transplant #1" because we will be transplanting these plants to their final home outdoors once the last frost is behind us. If you started your seeds in bigger containers, you may be able to avoid this step altogether. I'm not sure what the advantages/disadvantages are to starting in smaller containers, but that's what I did. So, I must transplant. 

This process really isn't difficult, but it can take a little bit of time. So, let's get our hands dirty...

I'm still not using fancy containers; I simply saved some plastic produce containers with holes already in the bottom. You could also use larger yogurt containers and poke holes in the bottom. 

I am now using regular potting soil, and I mixed in some of the seed starting mix with it. I filled the container about halfway full with the soil before gently scooping up the tiny little tomato plants and gently placing it in the container. If you didn't catch that, "gently" is the operative word. You'll notice that there are still two plants growing in each segment of the egg carton. I have not "thinned" these yet. You'll learn about that in an upcoming post. I read that you should wait to thin the plants until the first "tomato leaf" (i.e., the ones with the jagged edges) appears. I'm not sure if I'm going to wait that long or not. In the meantime, I just transplanted both plants together. 

Place the plant(s) into the container and fill the container with soil until the plants are surrounded. You certainly want to make sure the entire root system is covered as well as part way up the stem. I added enough dirt to adequately support the stem so it would stand upright. 

You want to give each plant enough room in the container to grow a bit. You don't want to have to transplant again. After getting the plants situated in their new homes, I add dividers between the plants to avoid the root systems from growing together. I simply cut the plastic lids of the containers I used. You could use anything you'd like. Plastic is nice because it won't get soaked when watering. I also labeled popsicle sticks with the different tomato varieties. I don't want to lose track of which plants are which. 

Place your containers back in the sunlight on their trays and water from the bottom as needed. As a reminder, don't overwater your plants. Only water when the soil is no longer moist.

Check out my other posts on My Tomatoes' Journey

Monday, March 3, 2014

Chicken Stock

Skill Level: Beginner
Skills Attained: Broth
  • Cooked Chicken (or Turkey) Carcass
  • Soup Pot with Lid (or pressure cooker)
  • Water (up to 16 cups)
  • Spoon
  • Cutting Board
  • Knife
  • Onion (one)
  • Carrot (one, large)
  • Celery (one stalk)
  • Thyme (1 t.)
  • Sage (1 t.)
  • Salt (1 t.)
  • Pepper (1/2 t.)
  • Strainer
  • Storage Container
Chicken stock is one of those ingredients that can really enhance the flavor of a dish. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I admit that I use store bought chicken stock (and yes, those awful, salty bouillon cubes...I know, I know. But it's just so convenient, inexpensive, and lasts a long time). However, on the few occasions I make homemade chicken stock, I am reminded how worth the extra effort it really is. 

The only reason I made chicken stock from scratch recently was because I started to buy and bake whole chickens. Truth be told: I am cheap (or shall I say "thrifty"). I try to find ways to shave off money from my grocery bills. It's just more cost effective to buy whole chickens as opposed to boneless, skinless chicken breasts. (And let's be honest, that crispy skin just tastes delicious.) Anyway, after making the whole chickens, the remaining bones and carcass are exactly what you need to make chicken broth. 

Basically, you throw the chicken pieces in a soup pot along with water, a few vegetables (onions, carrots, celery) and some spices (thyme, sage, salt...whatever you have on hand, really). Let that cook for a few hours; drain the liquid; and voila...chicken stock! I love that this process is not an exact science. You are really just flavoring water by transferring the flavor from the chicken, veggies and spices into the water. So, instead of plain, old water you are left with delicious, rich, and flavorful stock. Oftentimes, I use this broth in soup and risotto. Use it right way; keep it in the fridge and use within a week; or freeze it for 3 months or so. 

Here are more detailed instructions:

Place chicken parts in a large soup pot. (Depending on the size of the chicken, this may be 2 pounds or upwards of 5 pounds.)

Add enough water to cover the chicken. (For 5 pounds of chicken parts, this may be 16 cups. In this batch, I only had about 2 pounds of chicken pieces, so I only added about 8 cups of water.) Sorry...this picture is really gross.

Cover and bring to a boil; then reduce and simmer for 30 minutes. While simmering, use a spoon and skim off any of the slime that forms.

Chop vegetables and add to the pot: one onion, one carrot, and one celery stalk. Again, this is not an exact science. For example, I didn't have any celery on hand while making this, so I just omitted that veggie.

Also, add your spices. I don't always have all of the recommended spices on hand, so I include what I do have. This time around, I used thyme, sage, salt and pepper. I just guessed at the amounts, but if you are the type of cook that needs exact measurements, I would guess that I used 1 t. thyme, 1 t. sage, 1 t. salt, and 1/2 t. pepper.

Remove the lid to the pot and let simmer for a about three hours. Add additional water if the water falls below the chicken parts.

(Note: You could also use a pressure cooker, which cuts your time down to about 30 minutes. One of the last times I made stock in my pressure cooker, I didn't realize the seal on it had broke, so I was left with a very burnt pot and a house that wreaked of burnt cooking for about two days. Needless to say, I am using the "old fashion" way for a little while.)

Strain the veggies and chicken pieces, and pour the stock into a storage container. Keep the lid off until cool, and then store in the refrigerator (up to a week) or freezer (up to about three months).

If you ever roast a whole chicken (or turkey for that matter), I hope you are inspired to take the extra time to make stock with the remains. Happy cooking!