Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Birth of a New Season: Spring Babies!

Kids_BabyGoats

Kids! They are always ruining the best laid plans...in the best way!

Woke this morning to the 8th consecutive hottest day in March in Chicago with a high expected in the 80s, feeling like summer on the very first day of spring. Took my daughter to school and saw Erica on the way home - "The babies are here!" she shouted as she walked by my fence on the way to the farm. "They were born last night," and with a wave she was on her way.

GoatSleepingBaby

I had intended to do a ton of work, play catchup and get ahead. No, the babies are here! A quick trip into the house, grabbed my camera and soon I was headed in the same direction. The babies are finally here! The baby goats that we thought were due two weeks ago! Gretta's babies!

MomKisses2

Any excuse to go to the farm will do, really. New babies are the best excuse possible though. I opened the door gently, saying hello to the sweet brown mouse who lives nearby, and greeted Kazoo, the mama. Nestled nearby were three little balls of the softest curls, one apricot, one light brown, and one white. The white one is biggest, and a playful little scamp – I've secretly named him Scamp.

Nursing

When they nurse they wag their tails like mad, delighted to be near mom, to be eating, to be safe. It is the most intimate and wonderful moment - and reminded me of the many moments I spent with my own sweet girl, cooing while she ate.

TheGoodMom

Kazoo is a good mom. She's gentle and talkative but scolds when needed - and trust me, Scamp needed a scolding.

Playing

All in all I can't think of a better way to greet spring - beautiful weather, new babies, fresh air and eager flowers poking their heads up through the ground

MomKisses

Hello spring! Hello babies!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Recipe: 40 Clove Roasted Garlic Lemon Chicken, or the Best Darn Garlic Spread Ever!

40CloveRoastedGarlicLemonChickenHead

Ages ago when my husband and I lived in the city we took some cooking classes together. Well, kind of. The cooking classes were his Christmas present but he was kind enough to use a little of the gift card to take me to a few classes as well.

One of the classes we took was French inspired - Mussels with Tomatoes, Tarragon, White Wine and Cream, 40 Clove Garlic Chicken, a Celery Root Purée, and of course, Crème Brûlée. Everything was wonderful. Except the chicken. It was boring. Really boring. How could something with 40 cloves of garlic be anything but amazing?

RoastedGarlicBefore

The other day I came across our recipes from class. 40 Clove Garlic Chicken still makes my heart skip a beat and yet inside I know the sad truth: boring. I couldn't take it anymore. I hard to revise this recipe to be, well, at least something approaching the genius that the name implies.

GarlicBeforeRoastingWithSpices

Changes? About a million, give or take. First off, I roasted a whole chicken and skipped braising one that has been cut into eight pieces. Second, I've roasted the garlic first. Why? Because I am obsessed with roasted garlic lately, that's why. Plus, roasting softens the garlic and turns it into a buttery, sink-right-into-the-meat taste explosion. Or seriously, just skip the chicken and slather this on everything in sight, I kid you not.

RoastedGarlic

Then I added lemon to brighten the flavor. Garlic on its own is lovely but it needs a friend to help it present itself as the powerhouse we all know and love. Finally, I cranked up the spices and puréed the whole thing...and this is where it all went so right it was wrong.

40CloveGarlicPuree2

Nothing should taste as good as this garlic purée. Nothing. If you are smart you won't tell anyone about this recipe, you'll make the purée and then you'll slather it all over an entire loaf of bread and eat it all by yourself, every single one of those 40 cloves of garlic. Or you could just use a spoon, which I did. I have no shame.

40CloveChickenBefore

If, though, you made the unfortunate decision to tell your family about the meal you could add the purée to your chicken, working it under the skin and slathering it all over the bird, and roast until a crispy golden perfection.

40CloveGarlicPuree

Then steal the bird, run away and eat it all with an entire loaf of bread. Or, again, just put the spread on anything you can locate within an arms reach.

What?

40CloveRoastedGarlicLemonChicken

My husband's reaction: "This is the best chicken I've ever had!" then he asked me to make it again and put it on "every vegetable we get in our CSA all summer long." I have to agree. Obviously, this could go one of two ways - you could use it for the best darn garlic bread/peas/carrots/mushrooms/celeriac/random vegetable ever, or you can use it on a chicken. Vegetarian, carnivore. Potato...oooh, it would be good on that too...

Ingredients
4-5 heads of garlic
2 oz or 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 smaller lemons)
Approx 3/4 - 1 cup Olive Oil
1 teaspoon salt + extra for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon pepper + extra for seasoning
1 Tablespoon Herbs de Provence + extra for seasoning (or use Italian Seasoning if you must, you know, I'm flexible)
1 3.5-4 lb Roaster chicken
1-2 cups Chicken stock, white wine, or beer (not porter/stout)
2-4 red potatoes (optional)

For Purée: 

Preheat oven to 400°F

With a sharp knife cut about 1/4" off the top of the garlic cloves.

Place garlic heads, cut side up, in a smaller baking dish.

Then, if you are crazy, like I am, fish out the cut off garlic bits and add those to your baking dish as well. Just remember to remove them half-way through baking or you'll have deep fried garlic cloves. I use a slotted spoon or spider for this purpose.

Pour oil over the garlic into the dish until about 1/4" deep (about 3/4 - 1 cup)

Sprinkle a few grinds of salt, pepper and a few pinches of Herbs de Provence over the garlic.

Cover with foil and bake for 30-45 minutes.

Once the garlic is semi translucent and soft remove from the oven and let cool, in the pan.

Once the garlic is cool enough for you to handle go ahead and slide all the softened cloves out and into a food processor or bowl. You can use a small knife, spoon or utensil to remove the garlic if you like - I just use my hands. Keep the remaining skins/shells though - you'll see why.

Add the oil the garlic was roasted in, lemon juice, salt, pepper and herbs to the food processor. Reserve the spent lemons. You may reduce the oil by half or more if you like to make a thicker purée - I recommend this for vegetables, spreads and such - more oil is better for the chicken to keep the meat juicy and moist but otherwise reduce the oil and start with less when processing.

Purée until a smooth, buttery paste-like consistency. If you don't have a food processor just mash with a fork or potato masher until as smooth as your prefer.

Run away and eat. Or use for your bread...or chicken.

For Chicken:

Preheat oven to 375°F

Rinse and pat your chicken dry. Loosen the skin at the back of the breast and fill the cavity between the breast and the skin with the garlic purée. Be generous.

Place the spent lemons inside the chicken cavity. Truss your chicken then slather with the remaining purée. Don't know how to truss a chicken? That's ok. This corny joke teller will show you how. Humor always helps, in my book.

Instead of using another pan I like to slice red potatoes in half then place the flat side down in the roasting pan from the garlic. Place the chicken on top of the potatoes and there you have it, a roasting tray. Add a few of the remaining garlic skins (because there is still a bit of garlic in there) around the chicken and pour your chosen liquid about half way up the potatoes - I like to use one of my husband's Octoberfest style homebrews.

Roast chicken for 45 minutes. Turn heat up to 425°F and roast another 20-30 minutes until the thickest part of the breast is 170°F. If the bird is browning more than your like cover with foil and continue to roast. Enjoy the red potatoes flavored with the cooking liquid as a side and add in something lovely and green for a complete meal.

Enjoy!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tutorial: Pot O' Gold Presents: Money (or Message) Soap Gift Tutorial

MoneySoap_Final

Super easy, super fast and a fun take on the boring ol', but very appreciated money gift, money soap is the way to go for a difficult gift. A smart friend will use the soap as intended, until their reward, but there are those who might carve away at the best laid plans - just be warned. Delayed gratification isn't everyone's bag, so be it.

Every year we try to find a fun and creative way to give my nephews the same gift: money. We've done puzzles and traps, and this past Christmas we did soap. I had seen money soap before but at $12 + shippping for about $2 worth of soap and no telling how much money was within, well, it wasn't the right option for us. I knew that since the soap was clear it must be glycerin soap, which is easy enough to get and often available as a "natural" bar soap. Luckily, glycerin soap is very gentle as well, so recipients don't have to worry about skin irritations. Making our own money soap meant we were in control of how much money was within and appropriate labeling.

Perhaps you don't have anyone to give a gift to for St. Patrick's day but the pot of gold reference was too much for me to resist. Just tuck this idea in your memory for later graduations, birthdays, and the like.

What you'll need:
Glycerin Soap - clear or any color you like. My local store started carrying clear one week after this project! Gah!
Money or a waterproofed note/message (try a thin lamination on any note you like)
Drill and longer, straight drill bit. I used a 3/8" bit (tapered bits won't work for this application)
Label paper or adhesive and paper

MoneySoap_Measure

If the soap is shrink wrapped, start by taking off any labels you can. I removed the back label only, since I would be covering up the front one anyway - this way the recipient can clearly see there is something in the soap. You can remove all the packaging if you like, but I kept it on to keep the soap "clean" in handling.

Next roll up your money or note as tightly as possible. Measure it against your bit to make sure your drill bit is long enough.

MoneySoap_Mark
Position the rolled up money/note where you would like to go in the soap and make a small mark where it ends - this will serve as your guide when drilling and indicate where to stop drilling. I used a chalk marker, you could also use a dry erase marker, same idea.

MoneySoap_Drill

Take your drill and drill directly into the soap (through the wrapping if it is still there). I found it easiest to drill downward. Stop at your mark.

MoneySoap_MoneyIn

Slide your rolled money or note into the drilled out hole as far as you can.

MoneySoap_Sealing

Your drill bit will have some soap remnant on it. Remove these and place them over the hole in the soap where you drilled. Using your fingers gently push the extra soap down into the hole - since glycerin soap is so malleable it easily melts with your body heat and will fill the hole much like a wood compound or putty.

MoneySoap_Sealing2

If you have any mess just run quickly under water and scrub off - a little water may get under the label or packaging but it will dry out provided there is not a ton.

Make a fun label - joke about "good clean fun", "money laundering" or "cleaning out your bank account". Maybe make the scent "freshly laundered money", whatever you like and whatever fits your recipient best! Trace the shape of your soap onto your label and cut out that shape. Affix the label to your soap, or if you are using paper use and adhesive to attach (I used Spray 77). Done!

Have good clean fun with this project!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Decorating and Maintaining: A Seasonal Wreath of Repurposed Materials and Wood Butter (with a label download)

Playing a little catch up here! We've been busy - not so much so that it is a huge stress but enough so that it is a distraction. Our little one is in school most mornings now, which leaves the dog ever more excited about the possibility of a long, solitary walk when I arrive home to work. We've been quite social as well, a nice change of pace and a comfortable one as well since everything has been within walking distance.

WoodButterApply
 Slathered in Wood Butter - keep reading!

One of our recent forays was a "Bacon Party", which really was just an excuse to give our "Book Club" that never has a book nor discusses it, some meaning again. There were bacon-wrapped jalapeños, bacon chocolate chip-peanut butter cookies, piles of candied bacon, bacon vodkas, and a whole other slew of things I can't remember. Honestly, I couldn't even eat that much and I am still way overloaded by the thought of bacon - a perfect cure for cravings.

With the help of a few great websites (thanks Barb!) and a local game/hunting store (where I found my curing salts, go figure) I was able to cure my own bacon painlessly and quickly. I tried three types and brought them to the party with a vegetarian accompaniment on the side: a plain maple-brown sugar (candied and served with fresh, hot Beignets*), a Maple Bourbon (served with a cranberry, pie spiced sour cream dip), and a Jalapeño Tequila (served with a fresh guacamole). It was a smash and the Jalapeño Tequila was the first to go - the guys loved the subtle but building heat. Thankfully, we have plenty more dried jalapeño left from last year's garden. Christmas presents, anyone?

*Note: I make these beignets with butter instead of shortening with great success. They are divine!

WoodButter_Before
 Before - an older spoon and a newer rolling pin (from Herriott Grace - a favorite Christmas gift!)

While we were at the Bacon Party I passed along a gift to a dear friend who I so respect and have been continually inspired by, Erica. Erica is smart, grounded, and graciously humble - someday, maybe soon, she'll be a hands-in-the dirt farmer on her own property but for now she teaches others how to love and steward the beautiful world around us. I knew Erica's birthday was coming and I wanted to give her something that wasn't wasteful, that respected resources and encouraged her to love what she already has...I choose Wood Butter. Thankfully, it was the right choice, and Erica used it to condition her husband's homemade cutting boards (he's crazy talented).

WoodButter_After
 After Wood Butter application

Wood butter is a super simple, easy to make, cream-like concoction you can put on your wooden cooking utensils to treat, protect, and polish them. Since I make mine with food-grade oils and beeswax you can feel safe using it on spoons, cutting boards and the like. You may have also heard Wood Butter referred to as Spoon Oil and it has been kicking around the internet for a while - I think Wood Butter fits better and I have to admit to some revisions in my recipe. You see, I am very allergic to mineral oil, and most recipes call for mineral oil, so I substitute with olive or grapeseed oils. That said, if you choose to do this you must be diligent to dispose of anything that might smell off or rancid, as a rancid rubbed spoon is difficult to salvage. I also like my Wood Butter a bit more soft and smooth so I use a 5:1 ratio of oil to beeswax instead of a 4:1 ration recommended most places. It is easy enough to make and play around with so have a go at it!

WoodButter_TagsDownload
Click the image or the link below to download and print these labels

For your gift giving ease I'm making a download of the labels I made for Erica's gift available here. Just print, clip, and in my case I punched a hole and tied on with twine. I prefer the wide-mouth, more shallow jars for this job - like these, not the ones pictures, but almost anything will work and old jam jars would be lovely and repurposed!

EggWreath3
Fun for outside

Finally, this past week I popped together a quick seasonal wreath. I saw a big bag of old plastic Easter eggs at a resale shop and passed them by. That night I realized how I could reuse them and I couldn't get back there fast enough. While I'm not normally one for pastel, plastic wreaths, the opportunity was right there and I knew it would be a festive reuse.

EggWreath2
Almost done - a last layer of smaller eggs covers up the hoop nicely!

To make the wreath inexpensive, as well as give it a backbone I choose an embroidery hoop. Not only do you get two wreath bases out of one hoop, it is also a compostable and more earth-friendly option. About 15 minutes and some hot glue later here I was left nearly done - just one final layer of smaller eggs to cover up the showing backbone.

A run to the store and a few more eggs to finish the piece and here is the finished product. Total cost? $3.95.

EggWreath1
Fun for inside!

Don't want an egg wreath? That's ok - I have another super fun idea coming your way with a download in the not too distant future! So hold on to those Easter eggs , there will be a any-ol-holiday you want reuse coming down the pipeline.

Hope you are enjoying some of the same glorious weather we've been having. It's hard to get any work done but so lovely! Perhaps you are making some useful re-purposed crafts as well?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

3 Super Simple Organizing Tricks

A few quick and easy organizing tricks for you today. Maybe you already use similar techniques, maybe these will be new but if you have other great ideas be sure to share them as well!






First up - remote controls. Ick. Remote controls always seems to find a way of laying about all over the place and making a perfectly neat and tidy room look just a bit messy. We tried a universal remote once to no avail - it simply wasn't universal enough and at least one extra remote was needed to control the TV, stereo, DVD player, etc. What a mess!

RemoteStorage1
This is my Craigslist victory piece de resistance

We store our TV in a large armoire, but this trick could work just fine in another application (on the back of the TV perhaps, on a shelf, whatever works for you).

RemoteStorage2
Why yes, we do have a furry beast in the house. Why?

First, decide where you can hang your remotes in a way that will be inconspicuous and useful. On the back of each remote place a piece of velcro. I choose to put the soft side on the remote so it wouldn't pull on clothing when it is in your lap. I also used a heavier load-holding stronger velcro because one of our remotes is really heavy.

RemoteStorage4

Put the companion disc (or square, whatever shape you use) piece to the velcro wherever you wish to hang your remotes. For us the inside of the door to the armoire is perfect - it doesn't touch the TV when closed, slides next to the TV when open and is high enough little hands can't reach.






We recently had to get a new microwave (over a year ago is recently, right? Right.) Inside the microwave was a rack. A totally useless rack. This rack doesn't make any sense. But as a drying rack it is pure genius.

DryingRack

When placed across our sink the rack overlaps enough to hold it in place. Skinny enough to fit just about anywhere it can be stored very easily - I can't say the same about our actual "dish drying rack".The very best application for the over the sink rack though is for stemware. Ever other rack I've ever used either left a puddle in the bowl of the glass or condensation inside - this though? Spotless. No film, no condensation.

Don't have a microwave rack? Try a cookie cooling rack!



SpicesStorage1

I have a lot of loose spices that don't have any need to live in a jar - and shouldn't anyway. Mustard for example, because I love to make and can homemade mustard - but it has no reason to be in a designated spice container. I like using mini loaf pans to hold my spare spices and organize other ones.

SpicesStorage2

The mini loaf pans are great for holding related items as well - in this case some of my various extracts and individual tea bags. Easy to grab, easy to find and easy to put back in an organized manner.

What are some of your favorite double duty or super smart organizing tricks?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Recipe: Spinach, Lentil and Roasted Sweet Potato Soup AND an eMeals Giveaway!

SpinachLentilSoup1

Spring is achingly close at hand. I can tell by the way I crave asparagus again, a desperate longing for asparagus in every form – young and tender, peeled into ribbons on a salad, crisp bites barely steamed with a squeeze of citrus, and raw even.

This year spring is making itself known early - earlier than it should, earlier than normal. It is treading a fine line that leaves you wondering if it is acceptable to revel in the delights, or fear for the plants and animals should winter have one last petulant outburst. I saw my first cardinal last week, resplendent in red ochre atop a bare tree.

The other birds have returned too, joining the black-capped chickadees in song – the herons, the red-winged blackbirds, and the swans. There is a hint of green in my garden – a few daffodils poking up to say hello. Most welcome though is the light. My face gets warm when I sit down to write and I have to adjust window shades more often. I have begun leaving the door open for the dog to come in and out for a few more moments each day and my craving for fresh vegetables is moving from a whimper to a roar inside me.

SpinachLentilSoup2

Every year, every spring, I crave vegetables obsessively. I go to the store, forgive myself for buying some exquisitely green head of lettuce shipped from half a world away and they fall flat, every time. I am left still craving, still unsatisfied until the local harvest comes into play and then, well…then I eat salads daily, I have asparagus at every meal, I devour strawberries nearly stem and all – my fingers stained red and an empty carton in hand before I’ve made it a block or so from the market. Eventually I grow sick of lettuce and beets, and I begin the work of saving the harvests at hand for later. For now though, I am craving and the green is calling to me.

It won’t be long now before we have bluebirds, woodpeckers, frogs groaning out the unsultriest of mating calls, and mosquitoes taking advantage of that perfect 7:00 hour, but, most of all, asparagus, and lettuce, and radishes, and garlic scapes, and markets and gardens and, and, and…abundance. Crisp, earthy, aromatic abundance. Yes. Spring is almost here.

CrustyBread

This simple but satisfying soup speaks to my spring craving - it has the hearty fulfillment of a mid-winter food with the light and fresh flavors of spring. The sweet potato adds a nice complexity, the spinach a fresh flavor and the lentils a grounding force to bind it all together. Served with a nice crusty bread it is soul-satisfaction.

I'm also want to let you in on a little secret: I've been planning our monthly meals. I always wanted to plan our meals but it never stuck. This year though, I decided to recommit to my goal in earnest. I scoured around for a long time patching together a hodge podge of recipes from my favorite bloggers, cookbooks and old favorites. It took me ages to pull together a menu. Not now. I have a subscription to eMeals. I contemplated joining for a long time but finally took the plunge. I choose the Natural and Organic plan, as you might expect, because it featured more of the whole food recipes I would use.

All in all I am really, really pleased. Even with my meddling (I'm not exactly known to follow a recipe without some flourish) we’ve enjoyed the recipes I’ve selected. I can truly say that I have been able to stick to our meal plans now, stay closer to our food budget, and that I would buy an eMeals subscription again. I use my eMeals subscription as a supplement to my current planning strategy, but my guess is, if you followed the plan exactly – with the provided shopping lists, you would be about as happy as could be with minimal mealtime effort. The amazing weight of having a plan in place for dinner has made a major difference in my life, more so than I ever expected! Not having to think about meals means I have time to think about other things - like working on my own recipes, in earnest, and writing, freelance work, and getting life managed in other ways.

SpinachLentilSoup3

Thus, today's recipe is adapted from an eMeals menu item. I really think you'll enjoy it. We did - and the flavors really captured the craving I have for spring right now. The reaction? Well, I got thanked and thanked again - this was the meal that hit the spot for my husband and nourished my spring cravings. Really, that is what dinner is about - nourishing something deeper in everyone and bringing them together. Couldn't have planned it better myself!

Now, if you’ve been around here for a little while you know I am not a big giveaway person unless I really, really love a product. Well, exciting news! I do love eMeals and I contacted them to see if they would be willing to give away a subscription to a reader – Yes! So, leave a comment below telling me which of their 30 meal plan options you would like to try (thirty!) (and make sure I have a way to contact you) and you could win a 3-month eMeals subscription of your own! Deadline is March 15th at midnight central time.

Wanna win something else? Follow eMeals on Facebook and you could win a 12” Cast Iron Skillet – let me know in a comment and you can have an extra entry*.  If you are on Twitter you can give eMeals a follow and let me know below for an extra entry* as well! eMeals has a blog too – for your reading, simplifying and recipe perusing.

Spinach, Lentil and Roasted Sweet Potato Soup
Adapted from eMeals Natural and Organic Meal Plan #418
Serves 6

Note 1: This recipe is easily made vegetarian – simply omit the bacon and use 2 Tablespoons of oil and replace chicken broth with a vegetable broth. Adjust salt to your taste at the end.

Note 2: Roasting the sweet potatoes gives a nice crunch but, if you would like a softer and slightly more luxurious texture add the cubed sweet potato with the lentils in step 4 and skip roasting them altogether.

Ingredients
3 Tbsp Grapeseed Oil, divided (I prefer grapeseed to olive oil for its higher smoke point and neutral flavor but you can use either)
3 slices bacon, cut into 1/4 inch slices
3 cups mirepoix (1 cup each: diced onion, celery and carrot)
2 tsps dried thyme, divided
2 Bay leaves
1.5 cups lentils (I used brown)
4 cups chicken broth (or a 32 oz box)
2.5 cups water
5 oz (three good handfuls) baby spinach
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp sea salt + more for seasoning
1 large sweet potato, cut into ½-1 inch cubes

Directions
Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a large pot or dutch oven heat 1 Tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until moderately crispy.

Add your mirepoix (onions, carrots, and celery), 1 teaspoon thyme and bay leaves to the bacon and rendered fat. Stir occasionally and cook for 8-10 minutes, softening the vegetables.

Add lentils, broth and water to the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes or until lentils are tender.

While soup is simmering toss sweet potato in remaining 2 Tablespoons of oil. Season with a healthy grind or two of sea salt and remaining 1 teaspoon of thyme. Roast in oven, tossing occasionally until tender and slightly browned, about 30-40 minutes.

When lentils are tender remove bay leaves. Using an immersion blender give a few pulses to puree some, but not all, of the soup. If you do not have an immersion blender then remove 2 cups of soup and puree in a blender then return to the pot, or omit blending completely.

Add spinach and lemon juice and stir soup well until spinach is incorporated and wilted. At this point, if you would like a more soupy-soup add additional water (I prefer a heavier, more stew like texture). Add salt to taste – I found 1 teaspoon to be a good amount but you can adjust to your preferences.

Ladle into bowls and serve with roasted sweet potatoes and a nice crusty hunk of baguette on the side.

* Don't have Twitter or Facebook? That's ok. Go to the eMeals site and check out a menu - let me know which recipes you might try for your extra entries, up to two.

Please note: I contacted eMeals (emeals.com) to request the giveaway, I was not compensated monetarily and not solicited to host this giveaway and all opinions and language is my own. 
One winner will be selected at random.  If, after one week the winner cannot be contacted or does not respond a new winner will be selected. There are no restrictions based on location but you will need an internet connection and a valid email address to receive your subscription. Note: Above links do lead to a page where I can receive a referral credit for your purchase - if you do not wish to participate but want to purchase a subscription please go directly to emeals.com
THERE IS NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.

UPDATE:

Winner has been chosen! Thank you random.org...the winner is: Elizabeth D. Thanks Everyone!