31 May 2011

Homemade Tofu Jerky

In case you were wondering, the granola bars held up perfectly on the trail.  3 days in a crammed pack and they didn't crumble, melt, or lose their delicious flavor.

Another homemade delight we brought with us, and try to bring with us on our backpacking trips (if I make time to make them before we leave), is homemade jerky.  Tofu jerky.  This is another recipe that I've made many different ways.  I always use the dehydrator, but have tried different types of marinades, from store bought to homemade.  The most recent one I made was based off of this recipe.  I forgot to add in some honey, which would have helped with the saltiness.  But regardless, it was still pretty good.

Homemade Tofu Jerky

1 package extra firm tofu
1/8 c. soy sauce
1/8 c. teriyaki sauce
1/4 c. Bragg's Liquid Aminos
4 tbsp liquid smoke
1/8 c. water
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp pepper
1 tbsp hot sauce
1 tsp honey (which I forgot)
you could continue to add or substitute a variety of spices to your liking.

1. Drain and slice the tofu, keep in mind that it will shrink a decent amount.
2. Place all the slices into a deep dish.
3. Mix together the rest of the ingredients and pour over the tofu slices.
4. Marinate in the fridge overnight.
5. Place the tofu slices on the dehydrator and dehydrate until chewy (time will depend on your dehydrator).

You can save the left over marinade and re-use it for more jerky. 

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26 May 2011

Homemade Granola Bars

I think I finally did it.  I think I finally made the (almost) perfect granola bar.  They haven't been trail tested yet, but I have a feeling they will pass the test (i.e. not super melt, fall to pieces, be too sticky, and still be delicious).  We'll be backpacking in the Olympic National Park this coming weekend, so I will let you know how they do.

But for now, in the comfort of my own home, they are perfect.  I started making granola bars about 3 years ago when my sister introduced me to this Energy Bar recipe.  These bars were really good, but I couldn't eat a lot of them.  They had a little too much honey for me.  They were also super sticky and turned to mush on the trail.  

The best thing about homemade granola bars, is that you can alter them to your liking.  Do you prefer dried fruits? Chocolate? Do you go nuts over nuts? Over the past few years, I've made several different versions (combining several different recipes), but most of the time resort to store bought bars for long backpacking trips.  Until now....I hope.

I wanted to cut back on the honey taste, so I substituted some sugar and molasses.  So, here is the new and improved recipe:

Homemade Granola Bars

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons molasses
3 cups rolled oats (I added some homemade granola as well, because I had it on hand)
1 cup nuts (I used a mix of hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts....again, because I had them)
1 handful of coconut (depending on how much you like...i love the stuff)
ginger powder
1 handful chocolate chips

1.  Combine the butter, sugar, honey, peanut butter, and molasses in a pot and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat.
2.  Add in the oats, nuts, coconut, cinnamon, ginger powder, and any other ingredients you want to add/substitute and mix until evenly coated.
3.  Line a pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper, plastic wrap, or nonstick mat.  I use a Silpat Nonstick Silicone Baking Mat (my oldest sister gave it to me for Christmas one year, I love it.).
4.  Pour the mixture onto your pan and flatten with a spoon.
5.  Place the chocolate chips throughout the mixture.
6.  Place another layer of plastic wrap over the mixture and use a rolling pin to combine the chocolate chips and evenly flatten the bars.
7.  Put the pan in the fridge.  After an hour, you can cut the bars and store them in the fridge, they should keep for awhile.

I wrapped my most recent batch with parchment paper and rubber bands (I knew I'd find a use for those produce bands).

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25 May 2011

Weekly menu: #9

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18 May 2011

Canine Good Citizen

Bandit passed his Canine Good Citizen test in October of 2009 while training with the youth at Project Pooch.  Six months later, we adopted him.  A year after that, I finally sent in the paperwork to get his certificate.
The Canine Good Citizen Program is part of the American Kennel Club and rewards dogs for having basic manners using a 10 step test.  The test items include: accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, appearance and grooming, out for a walk, walking through a crowd, sit, down, and stay on command, coming when called, reaction to another dog and distraction, and supervised separation.

I'm not sure exactly how he passed; in a controlled environment he is great at 6.5-7 of these items.  But add Banjo, a squirrel, and me into the mix and it's a whole new adventure.  I'm hoping to one day take a class or two with him to continue his great work and maybe get him into agility or flyball (he loves standing on things and chuck-it).

Here are some places in the Portland area to take CGC classes with your pup:
Oregon Humane Society (offer a 10% discount for shelter dogs)
Club K-9 (this is where we go for daycare and boarding).

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17 May 2011

Bronze Fennel

Last year, we purchased a fennel start from Garden Fever.  At the time, it was an impulse buy.  We had never grown fennel before, had no idea what type to buy, or that there was even a difference.  We didn't really touch it throughout the year, and during the rainy fall months and through the (again) rainy winter, we thought we lost it.  But, it's back.  Bigger and better than ever.

It's a bronze fennel plant, and like I said, we didn't know this at the time but it's different than most of the fennel you find at the grocery store.  But, not much different.

The leaves are a darker color and it doesn't bulb as much.  It's a great ornamental and attracts butterflies and birds.  I've also read that it reseeds a little too well and will spread if not controlled.  

The taste and use is very similar.  The whole plant is edible: bulb, stems, leaves, and seeds.  You cook the stems of the bronze fennel, just as you would the bulb.  It's delicious.

We've been doing a lot with the plant over the past few days, and there is still plenty more left in the garden.

Willis made the most delicious sandwich with the stems. I've also been throwing them in with the onions and garlic in almost everything I've been cooking.  And we've dried a lot of the leaves to be used as an herb or a tea.

If you live in the area and would like some dried fennel leaves, let us know!

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15 May 2011

Spruce Tip Ale

The spruce trees are starting to put out new growth, and that means a chance to try making a new homebrew.

I haven't tried a spruce tip ale (either brewing it or drinking it), but I have read good things about them. It's supposed to be a very flavorful beer. It's also nice knowing that at least one ingredient came from near my house and was picked the day before it was used.

Here's the recipe used for a 5 gallon batch. I worked with an employee at Homebrew Exchange to create this recipe. It's a variation on a Pale Ale.

7 lb Light Malt Extract
8.0 oz Cystal Malt 20L
4.0 oz Roasted Barley
1.0 oz Cascade Hops (bittering)
1.0 oz Fuggles Hops (aromatic)
3.o oz Spruce Tips
Wyeast 1098 (British Ale)

Steep the grains at 160F for 30 minutes.
Remove grains and rinse with 2 qt hot water.
Add malt extract.
Bring to boil and add bittering hops and spruce tips.
Add aroma hops at last 2 minutes of boil.
Cool wort to around 75 F.
Add wort and water to fermenter to total 5 gallons.
Pitch yeast.

10 May 2011

As the Bread Rises....

I've been baking a lot of "No Knead" bread lately.  It's super simple.  It takes 2 minutes to mix, 12 hours to rise, 2 minutes to pan, 1.5 more hours to rise, and 30 minutes to bake.  It's great.  You can mix it before you go to bed, then pan it in the morning.  Next, you can get about 2 hours of stuff done, and then enjoy fresh bread 30 minutes later!

What I did today while the bread was in it's second rest stage:

1. Went for a run:  I took the two dogs for a short run around the block.  I am going to attempt (no promises) to get back into running again.  Bandit is a great running partner, he can keep the pace and keep it up.  He loves it.  Banjo on the other hand?  Not so much.  She keeps up for about 400 meters and then starts to draaaaaaaag.  By the end of the run I'm stuck in the middle with one small dog pulling and smiling and the other dragging behind wondering why we're going so fast for "a walk."  In the past, when I've routinely ran, I used mapmyrun.com to map out runs but recently discovered dailymile.com and am considering switching over.  I don't really like how MMR keeps asking me for a premium membership and is swamped with ads.

2. Started to build a fence:  When I returned from my run, I still had plenty of time to get started on a small fence for our garden.  We are hoping to put the gates up within the next month (don't hold your breath).  And when we do, the dogs will be outside unsupervised a lot more, which means we need a better way to make sure they are not getting their dirty little paws in the garden beds.  So, we are putting mini fences around the beds.  Something simple, cheap, not too tacky, and doesn't block a lot of sun.

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09 May 2011

Weekly menu: #8

Mini Tortillas with Kale and Garlic Puffs  -  This was basically two appetizers.  I wanted to make a bunch of small things that we could enjoy throughout the week.  I think it only lasted two days.  I lined a muffin pan tortillas, filled with beans, cheese, red pepper and garlic and baked for about 10 minutes at 350F.  For the Puffs, I blended kale, spinach, and chard (all from the garden) with some garlic and added bread crumbs and eggs.  I also baked these on  a greased cookie sheet for about the same amount of time.  I drank Izze Sparkling Grapefruit Soda and Willis enjoyed a homebrew.


Grilled Cheese - Field Roast, avacado, & pepperjack cheese on sourdough bread.

Pizza - I made a Cinco de Mayo Pizza.  I combined refried beans and salsa to create the sauce and topped it off with pepperjack cheese and red peppers.  Willis picked up some Corona on his way home to enjoy with this meal.

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07 May 2011

99 Skills Challenge: #22 Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

#22 Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

The 22nd item on Planet Green's 99 Skills list is "Make Your Own Vanilla Extract." They conveniently provide a link to a recipe and some information.

We're almost done with our store bought vanilla extract, so I wanted to get this started, since it takes about 2-3 months to extract.  Vanilla extract is even easier to make than sweetened condensed milk.  You basically cut some vanilla beans add alcohol and wait.  I can't believe no one has ever taught me this stuff before. 

As you use the extract, you can keep replacing the teaspoon or so of liquor. Leaving you with basically a never ending bottle of vanilla! (As long as you always have some liquor on hand...)

I am never buying vanilla extract again...

  • Vanilla beans - 1 bean for every 1/3 cup alcohol.  (I purchased mine in bulk from New Seasons Market for about $1.50/each).  
  • Alcohol - vodka, rum, brandy, etc. (I purchased the cheapest glass bottled vodka in the store $6.80/750ml).
How To:
1. Cut the vanilla beans lengthwise, leaving their ends attached.
2. Place the beans in a glass jar/container and cover with alcohol (I used 3 beans and 1 cup vodka).
3. Store in a cool, dark place for 2 - 3 months and shake every few days.
4. You want to protect the extract from direct sun exposure.  So you can either keep it stored in a dark cabinet but most people recommend filtering and storing it in a dark bottle.

$6.64 for 1 cup of never-ending extract.

If you prefer other extracts in your pantry, you can make others using a similar process, like almond extract.

Click here To read more about my 99 Skills Challenge.

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06 May 2011

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

I love sweetened condensed milk.  If I ever have any left over from a recipe, I put it in my coffee, smoothies, mix it with yogurt, etc.  I needed some for a recipe the other day (dulce de leche ice cream), but didn't have any on hand.  I looked up how to make it at home and found two different ways.  One with liquid milk and one with powdered.  I used this powdered recipe because I needed to save the milk for the ice cream.  It's so easy and AMAZING!  

I am never buying sweetened condensed milk in a can again!

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 cup dry milk
2/3 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup boiling water

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth (sugar should dissolve).  Place in a container and refrigerate.

Tip:  You can use a regular (not wide mouth) mason/canning jar on most blenders!  Just screw the blade on and blend!  This way you don't have to wash the blender container or transfer your ingredients.  Just screw on a lid and viola!  This is great for smoothies, spices, nuts, and sauces!  I bet an immersion blender would also work for this recipe.  Let me know if you try it!

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05 May 2011

Seek-A-Treat Dog Puzzle

 "A tired dog is a happy dog," and a great way to tire a dog out is with a toy that makes them think.

Willis and I have been planning on buying the pups puzzle toys.  I have been looking at puzzle toys online that are around $40 and made of plastic.  Yesterday, I found two dog puzzles on sale at Ross.  I found the Ethical Pet Seek-A-Treat Shuffle Bone Dog Puzzle and the Ethical Pet Seek-A-Treat Flip 'N Flap Dog Puzzle for $10 each.  They were both made of wood and have very little packaging (just a cardboard box).

The dogs figured them out fairly quickly.  I knew they would be easy for Banjo, but had my doubts about 'Dito's intelligence, so we gave him the easier one.  I was hoping it would take them a little longer to figure out.  I plan to only use them every once in awhile so they don't get bored with them too fast and just alternate them with other thinking games, like kongs and hide & seek.

The puzzle slides around a lot on our hardwood floors, but I kind of think that's part of the "challenge,"  I'm sure you could attach some rubber feet onto the bottom or place it on a slipmat to create stability.

These dogs don't do very well with easily destructible things, so I was nervous about them chewing on the wood, especially Bandit.  So far, they haven't attempted too much damage, but I suggest the use of this toy be supervised to prevent chewing damage.  I would imagine if I didn't pick the toy up after the last treat, they would continue to gnaw until there was nothing left.

Overall, for a dog product, they are pretty affordable and semi-entertaining.

Today, I let Bandit try out the harder Flip 'n Flap one while I gave Banjo a Kong.  It took him a little longer to figure it out.

03 May 2011

April Finds: Thrift Stores, Free Boxes, Barters, etc.

1. Metal Measuring Cups & Spoons - I've been wanting to switch over to metal measuring items for awhile.  My plastic ones keep breaking and the numbers always rub off.  I found these for 2 dollars along with a metal apple slicer for 99 cents. (I've broken so many plastic ones). $3.

2. Mini Cow - Remember the cow I found last month?  Well, when we saw this baby cow at New Seasons, we had to get it. $2.

3. Beer Stein - Willis bought this stein for himself because it had his favorite thing on it: images of deer in forests, "a 10 point buck in a sweet alpine meadow," to be exact. $?.

4. Spice Rack - I found this rack in a free box.  We don't need a spice rack but I thought it would look amazing with baby plants and animals.  I was right. FREE.

5. Plant pots - Dito broke one of my plant pots while barking at an outside creature.  My sister gave me a bunch of jade starts.  I bought more pots at Goodwill.  I keep my eye on free ones on craigslist but rarely have luck.  Goodwill is not always a bargain. $8.

6. Columbia Sportswear Jacket - I got a bunch of really nice clothes in a free box a couple of weeks ago.  This jacket for Willis and a couple sweaters and shirts for me.  FREE.

7. Hops & Homebrew - We have amazing friends.  Nick & Courtney traded us some hops (2 bags) and homebrews (like 18 or so) for our old kitchen table and chairs.  We also walked away with some knives and clothes.  FREE.

8. Tall Mirror - I wanted a mirror for our spare room, I like to play dress up in there.  It will also be nice for our guests to have.  Bought this at Goodwill. $5.

Currently listening to:
Desaparecido - Greater Omaha

02 May 2011

Growing Potatoes: Spring 2011

If you've never grown potatoes, you should.  Especially if you're new to gardening.  They are one of the easiest root crops to grow.  There are many different varieties and they are all delicious.

In order to grow a potato, you basically just put a potato in the ground and bury it.  Then it turns into lots of other potatoes.

Potatoes can be grown in many different ways.  At our old house, we grew them in containers.  When we moved into our new place, we created a specific plot for potatoes.  
Most websites and nurseries suggest that you only use certified seed potatoes, but we've used both seed potatoes as well as just regular ol' potatoes from the store.  You can either cut the potato or just plant it whole.  We've done both.  With smaller potatoes, just plant them whole.  Larger ones, you can cut them in half or quarters, let the cuts callus-over and then plant.

After you bury the potatoes either in the ground or in a container, you wait for them to start growing.  As they develop to about 4-6 inches, add more soil around the plants, this adds more soil for the tubers to continue to develop.

It is also suggested that crops are rotated every year.  So, this year Willis built another raised bed for our new potato crops.   We didn't have enough wood for a whole bed, but we'll build it up when  the potatoes start growing and we need to add more soil.  We plan on replacing the bed to the left of it as well as building a 5th bed, so we'll pick up some more wood for those as well.

Potatoes can be harvested at a variety of stages.  In order to harvest an entire crop, stop adding soil and wait for the tops of the plants to die off.  You'll have to dig around for the potatoes and you'll think that you've found them all.  But you're probably wrong.  We thought we got all the potatoes out of the last bed, but they're popping up all over the place!
After the potatoes are harvested, it is also a good idea to plant a cover crop to re-establish the soil.  We planted fava beans.

How do your potatoes grow?

For more gardening tips, check out this blog carnival:

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The Babies - Wild I