Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving: How to save the day

I like to make everything from scratch. Everything. That means that on Thanksgiving day, at my home, you might get stuffing crafted from bread I made, cranberry sauce from wild cranberries I harvest from the wilds of Alaska, and pumpkin pie that was made from a pumpkin I cut, seeded and baked to make the puree.

Realistically, that doesn't always happen. Or some years I forget important things for doing my homemade (different-every-year) dish.

This year there were a lot of them!!

So here are some hints, drawn from years of mess ups -er- improvisation, of how to make things work when it seems like the important bits are missing and everything is just falling apart:

Cranberry sauce - You forgot the oranges or orange juice for your homemade sauce. Substitute  lemon juice and some orange essential oil, or dig out that jar of marmalade and add it to your simmering cranberries. Don't have cranberries? Raspberries or currants make an excellent sauce, but not a dressing. Go for apples if you need to mix it into dressing.

Pumpkin pie - Didn't have time to bake that pumpkin? Canned is just fine!! Don't have that? How about butternut squash or sweet potatoes? Either will do in a pinch. No pie spice? Who needs it?! Cinnamon, nutmeg, clove...any or all of these will give your pie that warm, spicy taste. No evap milk? Cream or milk is okay too, just decrease the quantity if you use milk.

Now for the pie crust. Just about everyone has had a pie crust failure at some point. Here is the one thing that no one tells you - you can make a pie crust with soft butter! Yes, we have all been told that cold butter finely chopped into fine flour makes the best crust. And it does. But a perfectly suitable crust that is delicious and will hold up to your fillings can be made from softened butter. The trick? Lose the machine. Mix the flour and butter with your fingers, flaking it finely before adding your cold water. Try not to skip the refrigeration time, it makes the soft dough more manageable.

Stuffing - no bread? Try a rice. You won't be able to stuff the bird with it, but it can be dressed up with similar seasonings for a tasty side dish.

Turkey - Who said you HAVE to have turkey for dinner?! Try chicken, pot roast, meatloaf, salmon, what ever you have on hand will be gorgeous with a little extra preparation in presentation. A bed of fresh kale, lettuce or parsley or a ring of nuts and cranberries around the tray go a long way toward dressing up any dish.

Gravy - My mother used cornstarch to make her gravies. If you never learned to make a roux, cornstarch is an absolutely acceptable choice. Reserve some of your cold broth for mixing the cornstarch in at a ratio of 1 Tbsp to 1 cup of total broth and add that slurry to the rest of your hot broth, simmering and stirring until it thickens. Arrowroot and xanthan gum both work as thickening agents also, with an increase in the agent to liquid ratio (less thickener per cup of liquid). For xantham gum, start with a 1/4 teaspoon for your whole pot of broth, sprinkling it into the simmering broth slowly and mixing continuously. Using arrowroot powder is closer to 1tsp/cup of broth. The absolute last ditch effort for a gravy is to find a canned soup or boillabaise and mix up your own broth. Not going to happen? No worries, not every dish needs gravy.

Rolls - Are you still mixing up dough the old fashioned way? Mix, knead, proof, knead, rise.. ugh. So much work. Try this! Healthy bread in 5 minutes. You can have dough ready to go in the oven in under 2 hours, so many variations, you can literally customize it for any occasion..

No sugar? Try molasses, honey, maple syrup, or stevia

A relish tray- Also known as a pre meal snack. Almost anything will do to keep your guests out if the kitchen and patiently waiting for dinner to be done (just 30 more minutes!) Nuts, pickles, canned baby veggies, popcorn, old Halloween candy... seriously, most people don't need snacks. It will ruin their dinner.

The most important thing that I can give you is permission to do things differently. I know, we have been raised with these traditions of what a Thanksgiving meal is, but seriously, what good is all of that if you can't afford it or don't have the time? Make this your own, embrace it and make the best of what you have. No one is counting, and if they are, maybe they should be hosting dinner instead, eh?

Happy Thanksgiving from the Ireland family!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hand Pouring a Great Cup of Coffee

 Several months ago our electric coffee pot died. Not having the money to replace it and not being able to decide on a machine anyway, I dug around the kitchen and found a ceramic cone and a tea pot and set out to brew some coffee at home. This was purely out of survival. I did some quick research online to see what the ratio was supposed to be. It sounded easy enough, so I made my first pot of hand poured (or brewed) coffee. What I found was I had brewed the best cup of coffee I had ever had. I was elated! I could actually drink this stuff BLACK! No sugar, no cream, AND I could enjoy it! There was so much flavor, so many subtleties that I never knew outside of an espresso. It is now 6 months later and we are still hand brewing our coffee.
Well, I am. My spouse can't seem to work a kettle.

Below I have outlined the steps I follow to brew my "hand poured" (said in a snooty voice) coffee:

You will need: Coffee pot, coffee cone, coffee filter, kettle for boiling water, COFFEE, glass measure (not pictured). A tea pot is fine, that is what I used, but remember, it will stain, so try to find something that is already dark. Not white.

We use a gold mesh cone filter. Its washable, reuseable, love it. Start by warming your pot. Fill it with the hottest tap water you can. This will keep the finish on your pot from cracking when you pour in hot water from the kettle. You will be dumping this tap water OUT before brewing your coffee.
Grind and measure 60g of coffee for every liter of coffee you plan to drink.  That's 6 "coffee spoons", about 1 heaping tablespoon, of beans (pre-grind) for my 4 measuring cups of water. I used a scale to figure this out the first time by grinding a scoop and weighing it. Don't forget to zero your scale after placing a dish on it for weighing. Then add your beans. I know, you probably don't need that instruction, but someone might.

Heat your water. Do NOT boil it. Bring it up to near boil. 160-180F is perfect. If you accidentally boil, no worries, proceed. Pour 1 cup of water over grounds. This is where the grounds "bloom". They soak up water and start to release oils and all those yummy coffee flavors. Did you roll your eyes? You did? This is the same thing that we do with tea - we steep it to get the dried greens to expand and release all their tasty, beneficial oils and flavors too. Skip this step and you will end up with coffee flavored water or worse - something that a machine could make! hee hee

Now you can add more water. Pour in 1 cup or less at a time, don't over fill. We don't want grounds in the coffee.Try to keep the water from draining out completely. Keep adding water as it drips away and keep the level up.

See it go? Almost done. When it is all done, set the cone aside on a cup or something. Then STIR your coffee before pouring. Coffee brews in layers, so it needs to be mixed up to get a good pour for every cup.

Now, if you are like me, this will take a bit of working out. Once you know how much coffee you need to brew enough to fill your pot, then you can get a routine going. I now fill my kettle with water (reverse osmosis, always use the best water you can), put it on to boil, fill my pot with hot water to warm it, dump the grounds from yesterday (gasp! I know, I'm lazy) and rinse the fatty cholesterol from the cone (yes, coffee has cholesterol), and grind my beans. All in the time it takes to heat the water. I should also note that I usually set my pot on a square oven mit while brewing and also use one to handle my kettle. I did not picture that here.
My biggest problem now is keeping the coffee hot while I drink it. I think I need a cozy for my coffee pot. I have tried putting it in the oven at 200F (ouch), putting on the gas cook top vent while I cook breakfast (which does work), but I usually resort to pouring it out into travel cups. My pot fills 2 travel cups and a mug, about 40 oz. The travel mugs keep the coffee hot for my spouse, who tends to roll out of bed hours after me and walk out the door 15 minutes later.

There you have it. Simple, cheap and WAY more enjoyable than any drip cup of coffee that you have ever had. Go buy those Yirgacheffe beans now - they won't be a waste of money. You will taste the difference now. Folgers if for your drip machine, though I wonder what they would be like through the cone....

Monday, June 16, 2014

We're back!

 Well, its summer again. Time for work, time for gardening, time for putting up food for next winter! I know, I know, I utterly failed at keeping the blog updated all winter. Life is busy, and honestly, we haven't done much since last fall.

During August last year, I built shelves to go on top of the new wood floors I installed. Over 18 feet of shelves along one side of the homeschool room and another set of shelves for the tv area. We also built a pallet couch for the tv area. Doors are on the list for... someday. Beyond that, I tried my hand at brining my own corned beef this year. It was SOOOooo  good that I decided I needed to try to make beef bacon too. Brine the slices of brisket, smoke them, voila - bacon! Its so incredibly easy, I will never pay 12.99/# for beef bacon again! Maybe I'll write up a tutorial for that soon. I found instructions for brining brisket in Darina Allen's "Forgotten Skills of Cooking" cook book.

One other thing I did this last winter:  move the littlest boys out of their tiny bedroom and back in with the oldest 2 boys AND THEN move ALL of my sewing and art materials back into the tiny room. I tried to combine the art supplies with the homeschool stuff after completing the floors and shelves, but we were so crowded that it was December before we were able to work on school! I spent the winter break moving everything around and disassembling the triple bunkbed. I stacked it on the porch. It's still there.

When we bought this house, Mr. Ireland met all of my enthusiasm and frustration over the house with the phrase "Give it 5 years." Boy, was that annoying! But... he called it. This will be our 4th summer working on the house and we have at least one more to go. If we didn't have 5 little kids, animals or gardens to care for, homeschool work to do, any hobbies or outside commitments, maybe had endless funds.... Sure, we would have been done 2 years ago! I'm learning. I'm trying to be patient. I am so glad that Mr. Ireland is a VERY patient person, because I am sure I have been driving him crazy with my urgent need to have everything done NOW!

We are trying to approach the (huge but dwindling) restoration list from a different angle this year. We are going to tackle 3 big projects together, one for June, July and August, and then I will work on the other projects as I have time. Mr. Ireland has his list also.
Big projects:
June - the downstairs bathroom! This is HUGE! I have had a bathtub in my kitchen for a year and it will finally be gone. I plan to do Jam Week as soon as it is gone!
July - the dining room ceiling. It is time. I think there might be a critter living up there.
August - the big bunk bed project. We moved all 4 boys in together and they have been troopers, sleeping on beds and mattresses that sometimes get put away. We have plans to build something like this:

 In between all of that, we will be working on the garden, landscaping, little unfinished but important projects around here. If all goes well, the plan for next year will include remodeling the kitchen, trimming out rooms throughout the house and maybe the master bedroom will get flooring. Mr. Ireland is already talking about a shop and paved parking area.

That sums up what we have been doing and what we have planned this year. I hope you will check back soon. Its going to be a busy summer.