Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Freezer Cooking 2013: Finished!

The freezers are full and I am done! I did the grocery shopping on Wednesday last week and finally finished today (Tuesday). I thought it was a good idea to spread out the cooking with having work/church/etc. But I have to admit that I got really sick of being in the kitchen. I am glad this ordeal is over. Though it was totally worth it, and I know we will enjoy the results in the busy nights that are coming. 

Here are the pictures! 

Chili is Chris' favorite food, so I made sure to make plenty of it!

I got 7 bags each with 8 cups of chili. 

I cooked the rice with chicken broth. For the beans I cooked them with beef broth, sliced jalapenos, garlic and onions. I kept some of the beans by themselves, and the rest I added to a bowl with fresh corn, mushrooms, onions and peppers as filling for enchiladas or quesadillas. 

It is hard to make a picture of beans to look good. haha Though it did taste really good and will make some delicious enchiladas!

I bought two organic chickens from Costco, so I cooked the second chicken, and chopped the meat from both chickens to freeze.

I got 6 -1 cup- bags of chopped chicken total. This will be good for putting in stir-frys or making chicken salad for lunches. 

Bags of enchilada filling with chicken added. 

7 bags with 3 cups of rice in each. 

Having a full freezer is a problem when you need to get something from the bottom :). I took the opportunity and reorganized after this. 

Not wanting anything from my 2 chickens go to waste, for lunch on Sunday I cooked up the chicken hearts and chicken livers and served them with steamed veggies and fried okra. Chris was a champ and finished his before me. I struggled with the texture of the liver. But now I can say I have tried it :).

Last night I made enchilada sauce. I started with a bowl full of dried peppers. 

I took of the tops and shook out the seeds. 

Then I blistered the peppers in a skillet. 

I poured boiling water over them and let them soak for an hour. 

Then I blended up the soaked chilies with chicken broth tomato sauce and spices. 

Unfortunately it turned out more spicy than I would have liked. But I couldn't keep adding tomato sauce because I ran out of jars to put it in. haha I am hoping freezing it will mellow the spiciness a bit. 

I also had some leftover chicken broth and I didn't have any jars left, so I cooked it down and froze it in an ice cube tray for bullion cubes. 

Finally, a clean kitchen!

Well there you have it folks. It feels good to be done :). 

Friday, July 26, 2013

2013 Freezer Cooking Part 1

It is that time of year again for freezer cooking! I start school back in two weeks and I wanted to have a few stand-by meals in the freezer for when things get crazy this fall. I will be working part-time and taking a 16 credit hour load at school and Chris will be assisting with the high school marching band. That means lots of late nights at class for me and late night rehearsals after school for Chris. 

I am switching things up this year and the only full meals I am making are chili and chicken and rice bake. For the rest I am making more separate items like sauces, blanched veggies, and pre-cooked meats so it will still be a breeze to put dinner together but we have more variety and more options. I am also spacing it out a little more this year. Last year I did everything in 3 days and my poor freezers took forever to catch up. Also, because I packed everything into the freezer without it freezing right away, all the bags got stuck together and trying to get them apart meant tearing some of the bags. This became very inconvenient when I would put a bag of chili in the fridge to defrost overnight. 

Yesterday I put a lot in the freezer, so today I will just make chili and some pre-cooked brown rice and black beans and finish the rest next week. 

You know this post would not be complete without the token messy kitchen photo. This is where things started yesterday morning. The little bit of counter space next to the water pitcher was where I did all my chopping yesterday. 

I went out first thing in the morning and harvested fresh herbs for my cooking. I have thai basil in the top left hand corner, then chives, rosemary, and sweet basil. 

Green Curry Sauce which I blended with my nifty immersion blender. 

To prevent the sauce from turning brown in the freezer from oxidation, I heated it just until boiling then pulled it off the heat and let it cool.

Labelled, jarred, and ready for the freezer!

Garlic anyone??

Here I am making my favorite red curry sauce. I don't have a recipe for this, but I will tell you what I put in. I chopped up about 5 onions and cooked them down. Then I added a whole head of garlic chopped, 2 inches of ginger chopped, and several tablespoons of red curry paste. I cooked that for a little while then added 3 cans of coconut milk, 2 cups water, 1 large handful each of fresh thai basil and sweet basil. I tasted it and then added a little bit of lime juice, sesame oil, rice vinegar and salt. I heated that to boiling and then let it cool before putting it in jars. 

This turned out so good!

I get pasture raised beef from a local farmer and they gave me some marrow bones recently to make beef broth. I am still cooking it now but I will use it this afternoon to cook my black beans. 

I started by putting the bones in a pan and roasting in the oven on 400 degrees for about an hour and a half. 

Then I put them in a stock pot with a little bit of apple cider vinegar (to help get more nutrients and minerals from the bones) and filled with water and simmered on low all day. During the roasting process tallow was also rendered from the bones which I collected in a bowl and put in the fridge. 

I am so excited about this tallow. It is great for cooking eggs and for sautéing onions and peppers. 

On this side of the kitchen I have meat defrosting, stock cooking and water boiling for blanching veggies.

I also cooked a chicken and pulled off the meat. I will chop the meat and bag it up in 1 cup portions for quick dinners in the future. The bones were put back into the pot and left to simmer all night long to make chicken broth. I will use the chicken broth when I am cooking brown rice for the freezer. 

Next I chopped up 4 lbs of carrots, 8 head of broccoli, 4 heads of cauliflower, 8 onions and 9 zucchinis for blanching and freezing. 

I only have 2 ice cube trays with ice in my freezer. So submerging all of these veggies in ice cold water after blanching wasn't going to work. So, I just spread them in in thin layers to cool quickly. It worked great and the vegetables weren't as soggy either. Win-win!

I spent $21.79 on veggies and got at least 68 cups worth. That is $.32 per 1 cup serving. 

Then I made Mom's spaghetti sauce and added ground beef and some shredded carrots for sweetness. Having big stainless steel bowls has made things so much easier this year!  Thanks Aunt Joy!

I was able to get 8 cups in each bag. I also saved some out so we could eat spaghetti for dinner and so I can make lasagna for small group on Sunday.

Now I am waiting for beans to cook so I can make chili, Chris' favorite food. Did you know putting a wooden spoon over the pot will keep it from boiling over?

Hope you all have a great weekend!!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Repotting Aloe and Homemade Aloe Coconut Shampoo

In May, Chris bought me 2 aloe plants from the local high school FFA! I have been wanting aloe plants for a long time but I have never gone out to buy them. It was a wonderful surprise! The best part was that one of the plants had a ton of pups (new growth from the mother plant). 

I took the whole plant out of the pot, I knocked off some of the dirt so I could see the roots and separated out each pup with as much root growth as possible for each one.

I was able to separate out around 14 little pups! 

The four biggest pups were planted in clay pots with leaf mulch, and the rest were planted throughout the garden. Aloe is apparently very easy to care for. I keep my aloe inside, and only water when the leaves feel squishy instead of firm (I give them a good soak once every 3-4 weeks). It can't get any easier than that! The photos above were taken in early May when I got the plants. Today, 3 months later, I took a few more. The transplant is already producing its own pups! The mother aloe plants have also grown quite a bit and need to repotted in bigger containers. 

Now that I have fresh aloe, I decided to put it to good use and make shampoo! Most regular shampoos strip the hair of it's natural oils. Which causes the oil glands in your scalp to go into overdrive and produce more oil to compensate, quickly causing greasy hair. For the last 3 years I have been looking for a good hair care option. I have tried washing my hair with baking soda (made my hair dry and brittle) and I have used different kinds of 'natural' shampoos (very expensive) and I wanted something better. I was delighted to find a recipe for a homemade shampoo that was pH balanced that nourished instead of stripped the scalp. The only ingredients in this pH Balanced Shampoo are equal amounts each of coconut milk and aloe. 

I made homemade coconut milk by putting 1/4 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut in a bowl with a little over 1/2 cup boiling hot water. I used my immersion blender to blend it up for 1 minute and then I strained out the shredded coconut. 

I harvested the aloe by cutting off the leaves from the base of the plant with a sharp knife. I trimmed off the pointed parts on each side and slit it through the middle. I used the back of the knife to scrape off the gel from each piece into the measuring cup. Then I used my immersion blender again to blend the aloe and coconut milk together.

It only lasts a week in the fridge so I froze the majority of it in ice cube trays. Now I just take a cube out and let it defrost in a small container before I want to take a shower, and put the rest in the fridge. 1 cube lasts for 3 hair washes or 1 week of use. 

I have been using this shampoo for 2 1/2 weeks now and I really love it. The caveat is this will not produce suds. This is not a problem for me, but it is something you want to prepare yourself for :). 

For the first week I think my hair was adjusting as it felt greasier than normal. But now it feels great, and my hair feels really healthy.  Besides feeling healthy and not needing conditioner anymore, my hair has more volume and is easier to style too! 

Now for the cost breakdown. I made 1 cup of shampoo by blending 1/2 cup each of coconut milk and aloe vera gel. It made 9 cubes. The aloe was free and I only used 1/4 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut, so I spent roughly $0.20 making almost 3 months worth of shampoo. I love it when the natural option is also the frugal option!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Garden Update July 20

This garden update is long overdue. I haven't been out to the garden much lately because I can't walk outside without being attacked by swarms of mosquitos! This afternoon however was breezy and sunny  so I weeded in the garden, harvested a few things and took some pictures!!

My cucumber plants look very wilted in this picture, but that is just because of the afternoon sun. The two plants are producing very well. 

Okra started from seed on the left, stevia that overwintered on the right. I have loved using homegrown stevia to sweeten my morning herbal infusions. 

All my tomato plants have taken off. However, there is a major shortage of sun where I planted the tomatoes, so most of it is greenery. I have counted about 10 tomatoes on all 8 plants. There are only a few, but I am know they will be delicious!

Counting down the days until these beauties ripen.

My 4 tomatillo plants have been producing much better. I have already harvested 8 tomatillos and many more are growing. I am about ready to make a batch of Salsa Verde :)!

My borage was doing so well. I wasn't able to take pictures until after all my plants were attacked by squash bugs. I pulled out the remnants of each plant when I weeded this afternoon. This is why I can't plant zucchini or squash on this property.

My bed on the right is filled with lettuce that has bolted, chives, greens, and herbs. I am letting all my lettuces go to seed in the hopes that I will have lots of volunteers this fall. 

Harvest from last week. Cucumbers, chives, and greens.

Harvest from today. Cucumbers, okra, tomatillos, lettuce, and 1 beet.