Saturday, July 28, 2012

Gardening Made Easy - Recycle AC Water for Your Plants

From the Gardens of Cheesecake Farms

If you have a run off spout from your air conditioner, you've got water for your plants - and it's free!  Just stick a bucket under the drain spout!! 

Got a run off spout that's high off the ground?
Put a rain barrel underneath and you'll collect water without ever having to dump a bucket.  

A central air conditioner system squeezes a whopping 5 to 6 gallons of water out of summer's humid air to keep your house cool and comfortable.   That's plenty to keep the garden, planters and hanging baskets watered.

But here's the best part... the hotter and more humid it is outside, the more water you can collect so, if your community goes on watering restrictions, you'll still have water for your plants.

This is run off water is for plants, only.  
Never drink it or give it to pets.

Free water from the air conditioner..... that's recycling at it's best!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cooking Made Easy - Quick and Easy, No Can Pickles

From the Kitchens of Cheesecake Farms

Got more cucumbers than you can eat?
How about making pickles?

Now don't roll your eyes at me.  
Here's some nifty, oh so easy, no-can pickles that whip up faster than you can say Martha Stewart.   
I've scaled down the recipes into small, modern family sized batches, too.

Ready to impress your gourmet pals?

Let's get into the kitchen!

Un-Canny Quick Sweet Pickles
Real pickle taste without canning.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups pickles

1 pound pickling cucumbers
1 cup sugar
1 cup white vinegar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon whole mustard seeds

Wash cucumbers well under tepid running water.  Drain.  Cut about 1/4 inch off each end of each cucumber removing both the stem and blossom ends.  Discard.  Cut cucumbers into 1/4 inch thick slices.  Put into a heat safe bowl. Cover slices with boiling water.  Let sit at room temperature 2 hours.

Drain cucumbers.  Do not rinse.  Pack slices into a canning jar or other heat safe container with a tight fitting lid.

Combine remaining ingredients in a pot.  Cover.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, to dissolve sugar.  Pour boiling liquid over cucumber slices.  Cool slightly and cap.  Refrigerate at least over night before eating to allow flavors to develop.  Keeps several weeks in the refrigerator.  Do not store at room temperature.  

No Salt - No Canning Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Miss the great taste of pickles on your burgers and sandwiches because you're on a low salt diet?
These are just what the doctor ordered!

Makes 1 quart

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 large sprig fresh dill - left on stem (about 1/4 cup) or 1 tablespoon dried dill
2 cups prepared cucumbers (see Karla's Tip below)
1 1/2 cups tap water
1 cup apple cider vinegar

Put herbs into a one quart canning jar.  Add cucumbers.

Put water and vinegar into a small pot and bring to a boil.  Pour boiling liquid over cucumbers.  Cap jar.  Cool at room temperature for 1 hour.  Refrigerate (unopened) at least 3 weeks before using.  Store in refrigerator up to 3 months.  Do not store at room temperature.

Karla's Tip
This recipe was developed using salad type, waxed, grocery store cucumbers.  They were peeled to remove the wax and cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds.  

Home grown and pickling cucumbers that are not waxed do not require peeling. If you are not sure if your cucumbers are waxed, assume they are and peel them.

Easy Freezer Pickles
This funny little recipe goes together in no time flat.  The pickles are not as crisp as those made by canning but they taste good and are an easy way to preserve the harvest.  Come the winter, you'll surprise everyone with home made taste.

You'll notice that there are no spices in this recipe.  That's because you'll probably be freezing the pickles in plastic containers and the smell of pickling spices (especially garlic) will seep through plastic making everything in your freezer taste like pickles.

These pickles are lovely without any added spices but if you want, you can stir in a bit of your favorite when they're thawed.

Makes about 3 cups

2 pounds pickling cucumbers
1 tablespoon Kosher or pickling salt
1 onion (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter)
1/2 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup sugar

Wash cucumbers well under tepid running water.  Drain.  Cut about 1/4 inch off each end of each cucumber removing both the stem and blossom ends.  Discard.  Cut cucumbers into 1/4 inch thick slices.  You should have 5 cups.  A little more or less is OK.  Put into a large bowl and sprinkle with salt.

Peel onion and slice into rings 1/4 inch thick.  Separate rings.  Add to cucumbers and toss to mix.  Let mixture sit at room temperature (lightly covered) 3 hours.

After 3 hours.  Drain mixture well.  Do not rinse.  Pack into freezer safe and heat safe containers to 3/4 inch from the top of the container.

Put vinegar and sugar into a small pot.  Cover.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, to melt sugar.  Pour boiling mixture over cucumber and onions to 1/2 inch from top of the container to allow for expansion during freezing. Cap container.  Cool slightly and freeze.  Thaw in refrigerator.  Thawed pickles keep about 1 week in the refrigerator.  Drain pickles before serving.

Karla's Tip
Since plastic containers come in all sizes and shapes, so you may need more liquid to cover your cucumbers and onions.  Make additional batches of sugar and vinegar as needed.  


Cucumber facts

Cucumbers have been eaten for thousands of years and are believed to have originated in India.  The English word cucumber originated from Indian word "kachumbar".

Cucumber belongs to the same family as pumpkins, zucchinis and squash.

In cooking, cucumbers are prepared as a vegetable but like tomatoes and squash they develop from a flower so they're technically a fruit.

There are hundreds of varieties of cucumbers but basically only two types - eating (or slicing) and pickling.

Eating cucumbers are larger, smooth and have more moisture.  They are usually waxed to preserve their moisture.    

Pickling cucumbers are short and stocky with bumpy skin.  They have less moisture than the eating type and are never waxed.

Most cucumbers are eaten green (unripe).  
Ripe cucumbers (yellow or yellow and white) are bitter.  
There are some varieties of actual yellow cucumbers which are meant to be eaten yellow and are not bitter.
Cucumbers are pickled for flavor and to preserve them.


Healthful Facts
Cucumbers are low in saturated fat,  cholesterol and sodium.  Raw, they are a good source of enzymes, vitamin A, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese, vitamin C, vitamin K and potassium. 

Cucumbers help digest protein and have healing properties for kidney, urinary tract, liver and pancreas.  Raw cucumbers, when applied to the skin, can help reduce heat and inflammation.  Their potassium content helps keep blood pressure in check and is a nutritional plus for diabetics.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Food for Thought - Is Gluten Holding You Back?

By Karla Jones Seidita, Home Economist

No energy?
Tired? - Ache-y?
Don't feel refreshed even after a "good night's sleep"?
Hungry all the time? - Pounds creeping up? - Can't stick to a diet?

Here's something to chew on:  
If you've been to the doctor and there's really nothing wrong with you, you might be in gluten over load.

Gluten is the protein part of certain grains like wheat, barley and rye.  
Some people have a huge sensitivity to gluten and develop a very serious condition known as Celiac disease. This is not about them.

This is about increasing your general well being by tweaking your diet to curb and/or eliminating gluten containing foods..... and it all started with world class athletes.

Athletes are always looking for an edge so food is used as a performance fuel.

By switching to a gluten free diet, athletes were able to absorb more oxygen from each breath which made their performance better, faster, and stronger.  More oxygen made for clear heads and better focus, too.

A gluten free diet also helped eliminate a lot of the inflammation athletes generally encounter so their joints moved easier.  And, since they were getting more oxygen and were able to move more easily, pounds stopped creeping up.

Sound like you want to give this a try?
It's not hard, in fact it's pretty easy.

Just become aware of the foods that contain gluten and trim them out of your diet.

Wheat, barley and rye are the biggies..... but you won't feel deprived because there's a great big, wonderful world of good eating out there!!

There are tons of pre-packaged, gluten free foods to choose from  - everything from bread, bagels and sandwich wraps to cakes, pies and pasta.  They are simply made from grains that don't contain gluten like rice flour, corn meal, millet and quinoa. 

Love to cook?  
There are more gluten free recipes out there than you can prepare in a life time.
Switching your own favorite recipes to gluten free is as easy as using cornstarch to thicken your gravies and pies instead of all purpose (wheat) flour.   

Eat out a lot?
Choose rice and potatoes as your starch instead of pasta, bread and muffins.
Have grilled meats and fish made without breading.
Put nuts and seeds on your salads instead of croutons.   

It's just a matter of making different choices... and there are so many wonderful foods to choose from.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Panache in a Flash - Karla's Quick and Easy Chilled Red Pepper Soup

It might be too hot to cook but it's never too hot to eat.

In less time than it takes to make dinner reservations at your favorite air conditioned bistro, you can put gorgeous, yummy, home made, extravagant, gourmet soup on the table.... and no cooking required!! 

Chilled Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Pale pink and gorgeous.  Panache in a flash.
Looks (and tastes) like you cooked all day.

Makes a wonderful starter for a grilled steak dinner.
Lovely for lunch with a crisp green salad and some crusty bread.
Perfect to pack for picnics, polo or the races.  (That's horse races, of course, after all this is Virginia...)

Makes 4 (half cup) servings
Use a stationary or immersion blender
(Food processor not recommended) 

1 (12 oz.) jar roasted red peppers (water or brine packed - not vinegar packed - drained)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (room temperature)
3/4 cup light cream or 1 (12-14 oz) can evaporated milk (undiluted)

Using the blender, puree everything together (in batches if necessary) until very smooth.   Chill.   (How simple was that????)

Karla's Tips: 
Roasted red peppers are sometimes called "fire roasted" red peppers. 
Whatever they're called, they're mild and have a slight smoky taste. 
If you must (and you happen to have a bumper crop of red peppers in your garden) you can roast your own pepper (or two) and use them in place of the peppers that come in a jar. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Sustainable Kitchen - Using Up Fruit and Berries That Are Too Good to Throw Out

From the Kitchens of Cheesecake Farms

Got fruit or berries too mushy to eat but too good to throw out?

In less time than you think (and with lots less work) you can magically transform them into yummy home made preserves - and no canning is required.

Upscale caterers call these "Fresh Preserves" and they charge premium prices for this easy way to recycle fruit and berries just past their prime.

There is no real recipe... you can mix and match your preserves according to what you have on hand.

Fresh Preserves

The ingredient amounts are approximate.  You can vary the proportions to suit your taste. 

Yummy on your breakfast toast but don't stop there... use these preserves to top ice cream, cake, or yogurt.  Fill tart shells, biscuits or lady fingers with preserves and dollop with whipped cream.   You'll think of 1000 uses!!!

Makes about 1 cup preserves
Pan size not important but a 12 inch, non reactive skillet works best.

3 cups very ripe fruit, berries or a combination
1/3 sugar (see Karla's Tip #1)
1 teaspoon butter (see Karla's Tip #2)

Put the fruit into a large skillet.  Coarsely mash (use a hand held potato masher or fork).  Sprinkle sugar over top.  Let sit at room temperature 10 minutes to let the juices run.  

After 10 minutes, cover skillet (No cover?  Use foil) and bring to a boil on medium high.

Stir to prevent scorching

Remove cover. Stir in the butter. Continue cooking the mixture, stirring constantly.  The mixture should gently bubble as it cooks.  Adjust the heat as necessary.  If the heat is too high, the mixture will scorch.

Continue cooking until mixture has reduced by half - about 5 minutes or so.  

Serve hot or cool.   
Store up to 1 week in the fridge.  
Finished preserves

Karla's Tips

1.   You can add sugar to taste.  The amount of sugar is not important but the color of the finished preserves with a low sugar content will not be as bright.  When adding sugar to taste, bear in mind that the amount of sweetness will be concentrated in the finished preserves.   We do not recommend artificial sweeteners.

2.  The tiny amount of butter keeps down the foam so you don't have to skim the preserves.  You can leave it out but it makes such a wonderful addition.  Skimming is tedious and you never get all the foam out anyway.
Margarine is not recommended.

3.  This recipe is not intended for canning but it does freeze extremely well so you can stock your freezer with summer's bounty to enjoy all winter long.

4.  Do not make more than about 3 cups fruit at one time in one skillet.  More fruit will require longer cooking that takes away from the fresh taste of the fruit.  Preserves cooked too long take on a overly sweet... just sugar... taste.

5.  Works well with all kinds of fruit and peaches, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries or a combination.  Peel the fruit, if necessary.  Fruit should be very ripe...almost over ripe.  Use fruit that is past it's prime for eating but too good to throw out.

6.  A non reactive skillet is one that does not combine with the food that's being prepared.  We use a cast aluminum skillet lined with stainless steel.  Do not use a cast iron skillet or your preserves will taste metallic.