Working On My Green Thumb

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Getting ready to plant

As spring is here and I am ever eager to have some fresh basil to devour with my mozzarella, I have planted my window garden. I am determined to not let my lack of yard space keep me from enjoying delicious herbs and fresh tomatoes. While my parents visited I dragged my mother and father to Home Depot to pick up some planting supplies along with several plants and seeds.

My mother and I then proceeded to complete the quick task of planting my window garden. I had done a few plants last year, and my landlord generously loaned me several of her unused window boxes to plant in. I was determined to plant even more this year. I am a huge fan of patio sized tomato plants (the one I had last year was highly successful) so i purchased another one this year along with a patio sized cherry tomato plant.

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not too shabby eh?

I also had success last year with jalapeno and banana pepper plants so those were repeated this year also. I also kept my rosemary plant over winter so that stayed. New this year was oregano, mint, cilantro, dill, and of course basil!

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Seriously this thing is outa control!

My mom doesn’t seem to have faith that my plants will get enough sun due to location or enough water due to my neglectful nature! But so far so good, my mint is going crazy and my cherry tomato plant is slowly becoming a tower!

Can’t wait to start harvesting tomatoes and basil to eat with my cheese.

Happy Planting!

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So far so good…MOM!

When at first you do not succeed…

I apologize for being MIA for a bit, life seems to have gotten the better of me after the parents left. The T-man left for a conference in Baltimore over the last week; then work and a sudden illness consumed until his return. But I am well now and life seems to be slowing a bit so I wanted to share with you my latest cheese making endeavor!

While my parents were visiting I was bummed when it rained a couple of days, and we were stranded in our studio apartment.

But alas the rain gave me a golden opportunity to attempt the making of mozzarella with my mother. The first attempt was a total bust, and yielded next to no cheese, but at least I learned a few things. The first attempt I tried the traditional method of heating it in a water bath, the problem that we encountered (I think based on my limited experience) was not letting the rennet sit long enough, causing the curd to not fully set, which = disaster and sadly no cheese.

But when at first you do not succeed buy another gallon of milk!

After this discouraging experience we were determined to not be deterred and tried again the next day. The second attempt I decided on the microwave method (and then wondered why I even bothered with the water bath). We were successful, and it was so easy I will never buy mozzarella again.

Here is the recipe we used: Ricki’s 30 minute mozzarella

You will need:

  • one gallon of milk (we used whole, the recipe said you can use nonfat but it will result in a drier cheese, and potentially less flavorful)
  • 1 1/2 tsp citric acid  (I purchased this online at www.midwestsupplies.com, It was cheap around $5 and was enough to make mozzarella many times)
  • 1/4 tab or 1/4 tsp liquid rennet

Delicious!!! I have already made it again and plan on a repeat performance tomorrow, Pizza Margherita anyone?

warming the milk with the citric acid

first attempt with the water bath = disaster

the completed cheese

Second attempt = Victory

yummy!

yummy!

For the Love of Santa Barabara

I make it no secret that I miss New York, and at times living out here in Santa Barbara is not my cup of tea. But I have to say after the past week this area may be growing on me.

My Parents came to Visit!!!!

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My Parents at the Wharf

 I finally took vacation time from work and took the opportunity to actually enjoy all that Santa Barbara has to offer. We did the touristy stuff of course:

Drove the Pacific Coast Highway up to Santa Barbara when they arrived. The views alone make it worth living here. One does tend to take for granted the beauty of where the ocean meets the mountains.

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Views From Painted Cave Road

We went to lunch on the wharf, walked state street multiple times, toured the Mission, Visited the Botanical Gardens, climbed the tower at the courthouse, checked out where the T-man does his research, drove up to Solvang, drove and hiked up the mountain to Painted Cave, and of course went to the beach!

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Views from the Botanical Garden

 

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Baby turtle at Alice Keck Park

We also did some things that are special to me. Went to some of my favorite spots in Old Town Goleta, barbequed at the beach, and visited the turtles at Alice Keck Park.

 

I also decided to check out a couple of new places. We drove north to Nojoqui Falls Park and saw some prairie dogs and of course the falls, and we brunched for my birthday at the Boathouse at Hendry’s beach.

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Nojoqui Falls

 

All in all I think my parents had a blast. A couple rainy days did dampen the fun a bit but we found a couple projects to do at home (homemade mozzarella!). It was certainly hard to see them off this morning, but I have a feeling they will be back soon!

A Pickled Peck of Peppers

So this past week I decided to pickle some jalapeno peppers. The T-man is a huge fan of pickled jalapenos (they always show up on his sandwiches); So I figured that they would be a useful item for me to pickle. I used this recipe from “The Art of Preserving”

You will need:

  • 4 cups of cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp pickling spice
  • 1 Tbsp pink peppercorns
  • about 20 large or 30 small jalapenos sliced 1/4″ thick
sliced peppers

sliced peppers

Method:

Have your sterilized jars ready. In a nonreactive saucepan bring the vinegar, honey and salt to a boil. Meanwhile put 1tsp of the pickling spice and pink peppercorns into each jar, then pack with jalapeno slices. Ladle in the hot brine, then process the jars for 7 minutes.

ready for the brine

ready for the brine

This was very easy and made me wonder why I am not pickling more! (then I did a reality check and realized I was in a studio apartment and should probably not bury myself in canned goods)

The peppers need to sit for about 2 weeks to let the flavors develop. I’ll let you all know when we break open a jar!

Sadly my marmalade is still liquid and I am thinking I will need to make a third attempt.

That bloody orange marmalade

This past Tuesday I decided to try making a marmalade. Now I come from long proud line of preservers and am no stranger to pickling, preserving or jams and jellies. I spent many summers canning beans, beets, tomato sauces, and many other vegetables that our two giant family garden plots produced. Of course I never enjoyed or appreciated it then; I do now.

I think the last jam that I made was a rhubarb jam (who needs strawberries!) back in the 90’s…yes it’s been a while. A marmalade however was new territory; I chose some organic blood oranges for my first attempt of this new frontier.

I was using a recipe from “The Art of Preserving” that the T-man had gotten for my last birthday.

After slicing my oranges and a few lemons, I boiled the mixture with some sugar according to the directions, then filled and processed my jars.

orange slices and juice at the ready

orange slices and juice at the ready

-Side note: if you don’t own a mandoline, I seriously suggest purchasing one, the nice ones can be a bit pricey but are well worth the investment.

After the marmalade was processed it looked really runny to me, but I was hoping it was maybe just still warm and would set while it cooled. much to my dismay, the marmalade was still runny when I left for work the next morning. So after work I went and picked up some pectin, came home and emptied all the jars back into the pot, added the pectin, re-boiled the mixture then poured it back into the re-sanitized jars and re-processed them. The mixture still looked runny after the jars had cooled so I Googled the problem, and discovered that marmalade can take days, or weeks to set.

not set yet

not set yet

So now I’m waiting, hoping to one day, wake up to some delicious blood orange marmalade for my toast!

Big Plans… Lessons in Cheese Making

So having Friday and Saturday off this past week I of course had some big projects planned, cheese making, blood orange marmalade, resume updating and job applications. Oh how plans change.

It would only happen with such excellent plans brewing that the T-man would get the flu, and subsequently infect me! I did put up a fight by drinking disgusting amounts of a certain vitamin c powder mix. But alas, this horrible bug got the better of me.

So I awoke Friday morning feeling mildly ill but hoping to power through and determined to accomplish all the awesome projects that I had in mind. I ran errands and gathered supplies for all of my projects. After returning to the apartment rational thought began to sink in and I decided that I had bit off a little more than I could chew. I don’t give up easily though, and decided to buckle down and tackle the cheese project first.

My lovely mother had gotten me the book “Home Cheese Making” by Ricki Carroll for Christmas and I have now finally gotten around to making my first cheese. I had decided to start with the fromage blanc recipe. So at 12:45 pm on Friday I started the cheese.

Step 1: Heat one gallon of milk to 86 degrees and then stir in the starter packet.

Milk Warming

Milk Warming

Step 2: Cover and let set at 72 degrees for 12 hours!!! – okay lesson learned, when making cheese or rather planning to make cheese, read the entire recipe not just the ingredient list!

Well at this point I was too far in to turn back, so no choice but to press on.

So at 12:45 am on Saturday (note I was feeling fairly ill by this point) I strained the milky cheese mixture through the cheesecloth. Now the recipe said to gently scoop the mixture into a colander lined with cheesecloth. By this time in the morning I was beyond sleepy and not feeling well so “gently scooped” turned into roughly dumped. As in i just dumped the whole pot into the colander.

Now as described in the recipe you are supposed to do some fancy thing like tie up the cheesecloth and let it hang so that the liquid can drip out. (I generally describe things as fancy when I just don’t think they are that important and can be accomplished in an easier way)  So I just stuck the colander over the pot and let the liquid drip like that. Then I happily went to sleep.

Still in the colander, but looking more cheese like and less milk like

Still in the colander, but looking more cheese like and less milk like

I woke up Saturday and checked the cheese, decided I want to “rush” the process a bit so I weighted the cheesecloth with a few soup cans to press out the remaining liquid.

At about noon on Saturday I was feeling awful and decided that it was time to finish the cheese project. I tasted the cheese and it tasted like something between cream cheese and greek yogurt. Not awful but I knew I could spruce it up.

I split the cheese into three bowls, adding honey to one; lemon zest, lemon juice and pepper to the second; and chopped rosemary, tarragon, and green onion (all from my window box garden) to the third. I have to say that for a first attempt I was mildly impressed with myself.

Delicious Herb cheese spread

Delicious Herb cheese spread

However feeling like a dead person waking I decided that all the other projects would have to wait. I am taking a sick day today, so hopefully I can recuperate today and maybe tackle the marmalade tomorrow… now off to sleep with my gallon of orange juice beside me.