Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Chocolate Covered Pretzels

Warning.  What follows is not healthy.  It is addicting.  So you may want to turn back now.
My husband loves pretty much all things chocolate.  You just have to love a man like that.  So today I decided to make some chocolate covered pretzels. 

The first step was going to the store to buy a bag of pretzels.  Yes I could have made them.  No I didn't bother.  Sorry, I am not a purest.  Don't hold my lack of time and ambition against me please.

Next I took out my trusty double boiler.  You may remember it is larger than needed from my Homemade Lip Balm post.  I had some left over dipping chocolate from some long forgotten project but not quite enough.  So I threw the dipping chocolate and some chocolate chips into the double boiler.  I just eyeballed the amounts but I would guess that I used about a cup of each.  
Chocolate chips and dipping chocolate in a double boiler

I put my too large metal bowl over a pan of simmering water letting the chocolate melt.  I like to stir along the way because I feel like I am doing something.  Eventually I guess you really do need to stir.  Oh and make sure you do not get any water in the chocolate... not even a drop.  It only takes a few minutes to melt the chocolate.  Do not let the water boil and do not over cook the chocolate.  Don't ask why, just don't... trust me :)
Starting to Melt
Once the chocolate was all smooth and melted, I took my bowl off the pan and over to my work surface to start the rather messy coating process.   
Getting a Dip

Simple but messy... and worth it!
I used my handy spatula to push the pretzels into the melted chocolate and two wooden skewers to lift them back out.  Now I will tell you from past experience that dipping pretzel sticks or rods is MUCH simpler than dipping the knotted pretzel shape but this time I wanted to be adventurous.  Next time I will probably go back to the large pretzel rods, just saying.  Once the pretzel was coated with chocolate, I put the skewers through two different pretzel holes and gently shook the pretzel until the excess chocolate dripped back into the bowl.  Then I laid each pretzel on a sheet of parchment paper to dry and set.
Letting the chocolate set
As an added bonus I also dipped some mini-Oreo cookies too.  Those would be the odd round shapes in the pictures.
Can you say YUM!
You may also like this post on homemade Strawberry Jam or on my (almost) famous Dutch Oven Bread with only four ingredients. 

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dutch Oven Bread - Only Four Ingredients!

Dutch Oven Bread - So Simple!

I must admit that the first time I came upon this recipe I was skeptical.  Over the years I have learned to read through a recipe and get a feel for whether or not it is worth a try; meaning can I pull it off successfully and will my family eat it?

So when I found this recipe a couple of years ago I was dubious.  I have been baking my own bread (admittedly sporadically) for several years now and, though I know I still have lots to learn, I felt I had a pretty good handle on the basics of bread making.  And this recipe did not look like it had a chance to work.  But after stumbling upon it a few more times in various places I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a try. 

It worked.  Beautifully.  It actually worked beautifully the first time.  And then I tried it again and it worked beautifully the second time too.  And the third.  And so on. 

This bread is crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside.  It makes a good serve-with-dinner bread or an even better serve-with-soup or stew bread. 

For ingredients you will need:

3 cups flour
1 3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon yeast

For equipment you will  need:

One large bowl for the dough to rise in
One Dutch Oven
Plastic wrap for the top of the bowl
A big spoon.  One of those spoon-ulas (half spoon, half rubber bowl scraper spatula thingees) works best.
My Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Four simple ingredients!
Into the big bowl put all the ingredients in no particular order. 
Ingredients before mixing
Mix together with the big spoon.  The mixing takes less than a minute.  The mixture will be gooey and messy looking.
All Mixed Up
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave on counter overnight.  In other words, do not put this in the refrigerator. 
Ready to set on the counter all night
You want the dough to have 12 to 18 hours to just sit and rise. 
After sitting on counter about 14 hours
The next day after the dough has risen put the Dutch Oven into a cold oven and heat oven to 450 degrees.  After the oven is preheated, set the timer for 30 minutes and leave the Dutch Oven in your now heated oven.

While the Dutch Oven heats up, turn the dough out onto a heavily floured surface and with heavily floured hands shape into a ball.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let set covered on the counter for 30 minutes.

Remove Dutch Oven from the oven, remove the lid and carefully put dough into Dutch Oven, recover with lid and put Dutch Oven back into the 450 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Be careful! The Dutch oven is 450 degrees and so is the lid.
Ready to Cook
After 30 minutes remove the lid, briefly admire the bread you are baking, then put the now uncovered Dutch Oven back into the 450 degree oven for another 15 minutes. Remember these last 15 minutes are without the lid.
After 30 minutes with lid on
Remember to put the lid somewhere you won't bump into it.  My cast iron lid takes a very long time to cool down.

After the 15 minutes are up, remove the Dutch Oven from the oven, remove the bread from the Dutch Oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. 
All done! Ready to cool on wire rack.
Use pot holders to get the bread out so you don't burn yourself.  Now stand there and admire your work!  I know I always do.

So after I made this awesome bread it was time to cook dinner.  What could I do with a very hot Dutch Oven?  Apparently lots of things.  Scroll down to my next post to see The Dinner After.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Since things have been rather slow outside given our extremely late start of the season, here are some random pictures from around our suburban homestead.

I thought I should start with pictures of some of the cats on our homestead.  This first one is Widgy Cat, my pseudo name.  
Widgy Cat
Given that I have an ongoing law practice and have disclosed here that we are working on making a big move to another state to start a new business and homestead out in the country, it seems reasonable to keep a certain amount of anonymity for now.

Grapevines are starting to bloom
Finally Tomatoes!
We hilled our potatoes with compost this weekend. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Dinner After

At the end of my post about my Dutch Oven Bread I mused about what I could make for dinner with a pre-heated Dutch Oven in my grasp.  Well on my counter.  It really was too hot to grasp.

I had a whole chicken in my refrigerator awaiting a cooking date so suddendly the light bulb went off in my head.  Why not cook the chicken in the Dutch Oven.  Duh.  I really hadn't planned this so I was feeling very clever.

To start I put some butter into the Dutch Oven.
See it really was hot in these pictures
Then I sliced up some onions and layered them on the bottom of the Dutch Oven.  This helps insure the chicken does not stick to the pan.  My Dutch Oven is well seasoned so the chicken should not stick but I like the flavor the onions bring to the meal... we ate the onions too!

I also added some chicken stock to the pot.  This will add some moisture to the cooking environment to help keep the chicken from drying out.  Again, when cooking in a lided environment, drying out is not a big problem.  And again, I like the flavor the stock adds.  My chicken stock happened to be frozen.  When I have the remains of a whole chicken left over, I boil it down for stock.  (Which will be the ultimate end for this chicken). Then when the stock is cooled and strained, I freeze the stock in ice cube trays.  The frozen stock cubes are then sealed up in ziptop bags in the freezer for future use.  This makes it much easier to use the stock in multiple recipes.  Someday I should actually measure how much stock is in one cube so I know how many cubes to the cup but that is a project for another day.
Add onions and frozen chicken stock (frozen is not required)

The chicken was carefully placed on top of the onions.  I say carefully because remember the Dutch Oven is still close to 400 degrees in these pictures.  I sprinkled the chicken with salt, thyme, sage, and basil.  A pinch or two of each.  Season to your own liking.  
Add whole chicken and season
The lid was put on the Dutch Oven and the whole thing put into a 425 degree oven for about an hour and a half.  The chicken was falling off the bones and very moist and tender.
Not the best picture but it sure was yummy!
After the chicken was cooking away I also cut up a variety grape and cherry heiloom tomatoes.  I put them into a square baking pan with some olive oil.  The tomatoes were mixed up in the oilive oil then I sprinkled them with garlic power, salt, and grated parmasan cheese. 
Tomatoes ready for the oven
The tomatoes were put into the oven next to the Dutch Oven for the last 30 minutes of cooking to roast.  They turn out so sweet and flavorful you just have to try them even if you do not like tomatoes as a rule.
Roasted Tomatoes - So Yummy!

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Chive Vinegar

Usually there are so many things to tend to in the garden this time of year. But it has been so cool and rainy everything is sluggish. And it snowed through the first week of May which significantly delayed planting our warm weather crops.  But everything is in the garden now.

The plants all look healthy if not a little small for the time of year.  However a few stalwarts refuse to be daunted by the weather.  Among them the chives.

My chives started with one little plant in a two inch pot I brought home as an impulse purchase. Now, some fourteen clumps later lining my lower garden bed, and countless plants given away, I can honestly declare my chives are thriving.
Chive Buds Ready To Pop
I love so many things about chives; their happy waving green stalks, the strong aroma when trimmed for cooking, the light onion taste they bring to raw vegetable dishes, and probably my favorite their beautiful flower.  Being part of the allium family, chives bear the telltale "globe of many flowers" bloom ranging from pink to purple to blue. 
Love This Color
I must admit that I love all alliums. We have a bed of ornamental alliums that are grown for their amazing blooms. We always grow three or four types of garlic, enough for a whole year of cooking plus some for next falls' seed garlic. And then there are the onions that I can't seem to do without.
One of my favorite projects is making chive vinegar.  For this project you will need:

A dry sterilized jar with lid (one quart mason jars work well)
3 - 3 1/2 cups white wine or rice vinegar
1 cup or more chive blossoms

Pick the chive blossoms in the morning after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day has caused their essential oils to evaporate. 

Gently swish the blossoms in cold water until free of debris. 
Getting a Cool Rinse 
Allow blossoms to dry; you can let them air dry or use a salad spinner.
Drying on a Towel
Pack the blossoms into the sterilized jar then fill the jar with your choice of vinegar. 
Fill the Jar
I prefer to use a good  white wine vinegar or a rice wine vinegar.  Remember the better the vinegar the better the end product.  Don't use apple cider vinegar because the darker color of the vinegar will mask the beautiful pink the chive blossoms produce. Also apple cider vinegar has its own very strong flavor that overpowers the more delicate chive flavor.
Close the jar and let set for 4 - 6 weeks in a dark place.  Shake the vinegar in the jar every couple of days during this time.  Once the vinegar is to your liking you can choose to leave the blossoms in or strain them out.  The best choice is to strain out the old blossoms then add a few new blossoms to the finished product.  However, given the time frame in which chives bloom,  fresh blossoms may not be available.
After 6 days.  Don't you love the color!
Note, if you have a metal lid for your jar, the vinegar may react with the lid making a mess and generally unusable product (don't ask me how I know).  Put a layer of plastic wrap between the jar opening and the lid to prevent the vinegar and metal lid from reacting.  Also label and date your jar.  It is very easy to forget what you made and when you made it after several weeks (again, don't ask me how I know). 

There are many other herbal vinegar worth having as well.  These all make great salad dressings, vegetable and/or meat marinades, additions to soups (especially when a soup just needs something), or a great sprinkle over bruschetta.

Try basil and garlic in white wine vinegar, or dill, chive and peppercorn in red wine vinegar.  The basic recipe is the same, just the herbs have been changed to protect the innocent, I mean to add some variety to your pantry. 

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Homemade Lip Balm

This is a project I have always wanted to try.  From everything I have read it is pretty easy. And the best part is, I get to control what goes into the lip balm. Say goodbye to petroleum based ingredients. Goodbye to synthetic dyes. Goodbye to parabens and other preservatives.

Say hello to all kinds of goodness: beeswax, coconut oil, almond oil, essential oils and maybe even honey.
Lip balm ingredients
There are so many recipes available that before I chose one I decided to do a little investigating into the basic structure or chemical make up of lip balm to find out the propose of each ingredient.

The basic structure of lip balm comes from a waxy solid. In commercial products this may come from petroleum, various types of wax, or polyethylene. In my home made recipe I will use beeswax in combination with coconut oil which is solid at room temperature.

Commercial products also contain a combination of conditioners, humectants, and emollients which are basically things to soften and moisten your lips. These ingredients also soften the product since the waxy bases tend to be very hard at room temperature. Pretty much all of the commercial ingredients are things I cannot spell so I won't try to write them out here. For my homemade recipe I will use almond oil and the coconut oil for this purpose.  You could use Shea butter and or cacao butter as well. If you were adventurous you could try palm oil too.

Finally commercial lip balms contain flavorings, fragrance and preservatives.  My homemade recipe will use essential oils for for the fragrance.  The ingredients themselves provide the flavoring although honey can be added for sweetness.  Both coconut oil and honey will provide some preservative function to lip balm.

The recipe I chose to try is:

4 tsp coconut oil
3 tsp almond oil
3 tsp beeswax
6 - 10 drops essential oil

This recipe made about 2 oz. of lip balm. The beeswax and two oils were put into a double boiler to melt.
Beeswax, Coconut Oil, and Almond Oil
Stir a bit as the ingredients melt together.
Yes my double boiler is wayyyyy bigger than needed for this project
Once soft, mix together well then add the essential oil.  I chose to try grapefruit oil.

Pour the melted mixture into your container of choice.  I used half-ounce metal tins.  But there are lots of other options. 
Ready for the refrigerator (but they will harden on their own without it)
Let cool in the refrigerator and in a few minutes, TADA!  
Lip Balm Ready to use

Now to just figure out how to make cute little labels for the tins. 

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Rain Barrels

Look at what my hubby installed over the weekend!

Rain Barrels behind corn sprouts and next to the peas
These two rain barrels have been sitting unsold at our local HD for almost two years, taking up valuable space.  My hubby knows the store manager and asked him if we could buy them on the cheap.  We paid less than two for the price of one.  Our city sells rain barrels for a short time each spring.  We even paid less than the subsidized city price and these look much better than then ones the city sells.

Together they can collect 170 gallons of water.  Given the cost of water in our fair city, the rain barrels should pay for themselves in just one summer. 

Now we just need some rain!
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