Thursday, August 20, 2009

Creamy Italian Chicken

2 T olive oil
4 boneless chicken breasts, chopped
1 red pepper
1 medium sweet onion
1 medium zucchini
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 8 oz bottle italian dressing
1 8oz container of ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
8oz bag of wacky mac veggie spirals

Set out a large crockpot and turn on to heat crock. In a large skillet, heat your oil. Add chicken sauteing till lightly browned. Spoon meat into crockpot and return pan to stove. Add pepper, onion and zucchini and saute until tender, add garlic and saute additional 2 minutes. Add to crockpot. Pour dressing over chicken veggie mixture and toss lightly. Cover and cook on low until chicken is tender. Lower heat to warm and add ricotta and parmesan cheese, stirring to mix well with the liquid that is in the crockpot from the cooking veggies and meat. Cover and allow the cheese to melt and heat through. Cook pasta and drain.
Serve ladling sauce and meat/veggie mix over pasta.


With all the dietary issues around here, finding a sweetener that is affordable, natural and something I can work with is a challenge. Stevia has been around for a while but has had a bad rap because at first the FDA wouldn't approve it(they finally did in winter of 2008) and also because of the bitter aftertaste. It's also difficult to work with because you need so little to sweeten something so you have to adjust your recipes to compensate for the lack of dry ingredients when you replace sugar. It won't caramelize either so you don't always get the effect you want. Despite all this, I find it quite useful. Its doesn't alter your blood sugar and it doesn't have any GMO dangers. Its safe for my allergy-ridden son AND I can grow it myself.

I admit I have attempted to grow it in the past. Previous varieties that I have grown from seed have been quite bitter and the plants have not done well here in NC. Last year I found a new variety called Crazy Sweet Stevia from Richter's Herbs that is doing very well. I recently started my first jar of extract from the very healthy plants and hope to bring several of the plants in for the winter so I will have a good start in the spring. Stevia can be started from seed or propagated from existing plants. Since our growing season is shorter, I plan to pot for indoors and propagate this winter and put out several plants next spring. I will let you know how that goes.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How to make an Extract

While paying for the convenience of ready-made extracts can be nice, it can be costly. Even the extracts you use to flavor your favorite recipes are very expensive. If you use extracts to supplement your daily diet or use them regularly for medicinal purposes, the costs can really add up. Making your own extracts will save you hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars.

This is the simplest way to make your own liquid extracts in your own home. Start with a clean mason jar with a lid, the herbs of your choice and a good grain alcohol that is over 90 proof(Everclear or a good vodka is best). If you can use fresh herbs, that is best as well. Fresh material is always preferred but availability is determined by your abilities to grow them, the climate, available stores, etc and many quality herbs may not be available. It is unlikely that you have vanilla seed pods in your back garden, so do the best you can :) If you cannot locate fresh materials, be sure to get good quality, organic herbs from a reputable supplier. Also, you will not want to use a powdered herb for making an extract. It is difficult to filter out the plant matter at the end of the steeping period.

If you are using fresh material, remove the part you will need(leaves, stems, root) and put in the glass jar. Next, pour the grain alcohol or Vodka over the herbs. Completely cover the herbal material. If you are using dried herbs you will need to add more alcohol over the next day or two as the dried herbs absorb and expand. Keep this expansion in mind as you fill your jar at the beginning. A good ratio for dried material is about 1 part herb to 5 parts alcohol. After you have added the alcohol, cover with a new, tight-fitting lid. It is best to use a new canning lid. Reusing old commercial jars can lead to contamination of your extract.

Shake well and place the jar in brown paper bag(to protect it from light) & allow the herbs to soak for 1 to 2 months in a cool dark place. Shake every few days. I like to keep my extracts in a cubby on my desk. Each morning when I check my email, I shake the jars. The alcohol will extract the active compounds from the herbs. After 4 to 8 weeks, strain the herbs. Use a large sieve or strainer lined with a fine mesh cloth or cheesecloth placed over a large bowl or container. Allow all the liquid to drain out. If you are using a fine material, you can tightly squeeze the material to extract every last drop from the cloth. The herbal material left over that is saturated contains a lot of active medicinal compounds so do your best to extract all the liquid. If you want to remove the alcoholic content as well, you can gently heat the liquid to do so. Allow the solution to cool, then funnel the liquid into smaller bottles, preferably amber or cobalt bottles and store your tinctures in a cool dark place. Its that simple! You have now made your own herbal extract for a fraction of the price you would have paid at the store. Your extracts will keep for 3-5 years! Enjoy!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Garden Abundance: Jalapeño Peppers

One of the vegetables people often find in abundance and don't know how to deal with them is Jalapeño peppers. You only use a few in salsas and beyond that, most people aren't sure what to do with them. One of our favorite condiments is a recipe that I adapted from a banana pepper recipe years ago. My aunt met a guy that did the banana peppers this way and I decided that it made perfect sense to handle my jalapenos the same way as well. While I can't guarantee that these meet USDA canning standards, I can tell you that I make them and they last years without any visible signs of problems and we finished of a two year old jar just last week without any ill effects. The thing I like the most about this recipe is that you can make one jar or 20. It's totally based on how many peppers you have. My most favorite way to eat them is atop a slice of cheese pizza, fresh from the oven. We dice them and sprinkle on top of it after baking. They are also good on Thai foods(the classic sweet/hot taste) and I like them on nachos as well. If you make these and come up with another way to enjoy them, please let me know!

Sweet n' Hot Peppers (Hungarian, banana, chile, jalapeno-any kind)

* All the jalapeno peppers you want to fix
* Equal amounts of brown sugar and apple cider vinegar

To avoid severe burns, wear rubber gloves when handling hot peppers. After handling peppers, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face.

Wash peppers. Remove tops and any bad spots. Slice in 1/8-1/4" slices. We keep the seeds in so its extra hot, but you can remove them if you like. Once you have an idea of how many jars your peppers will fill, prepare enough of the syrup mixture to fill your pint or half pint jars.

Put the clean jars in your canner full of water to get them hot, bringing this water to a boil. Measure out your brown sugar and vinegar in a non-reactive sauce pan and bring that to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and heat for about 5-10 minutes so all the sugar is dissolved. When everything is ready, fill the hot jars to with pepper slices-don't pack them, but you can shake them down to within 1/2" of rim. Ladle hot syrup mixture over the peppers leaving 1/2-inch head space.

Adjust lids

Recommended processing times for hot peppers in a boiling-water canner
Raw pack

* Process 1/2 pint or pint jars
o 10 minutes at 0 to 1,000 feet in altitude
o 15 minutes at 1001 to 6,000 feet in altitude

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Southwest Corn Relish

This is a great compliment to a burger or cold meat tray. Great as a salsa with chips as well. Try it on your meats! My father likes to have it with tuna.

Southwest Corn Relish
12 ears of fresh corn
3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup red onion, chopped
1 cup sweet red pepper, chopped4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup demarara(or evaporated cane juice)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp ground coriander

To Can: Bring large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add corn and cover. Cook for 6 minutes. Drain and cool. With sharp knife cut kernels from cob to measure 8 cups. Put in large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Add remaining ingredients except coriander. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce heat to a gentle boil. Cook uncovered for 20 minutes. Stir in coriander and cook 2 more minutes. Remove from heat.
Ladle relish into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch head space. Process 15 minutes for half pints, 25 minutes for pints in HW bath.

For Fresh: Bring large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add corn and cover. Blanch for 2-3 minutes. Remove promptly and submerge in cold water to cool. With sharp knife cut kernels from cob to measure 8 cups. Chop remaining vegetables and add to corn. Set aside(I refrigerate) In stainless steel or enamel saucepan, add remaining ingredients except coriander. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce heat to a gentle boil. Cook for 5 minutes until sugar is dissolved. Stir in coriander and cook 2 more minutes. Set aside, allowing to cool. Once cool, and flavors of garlic and seasonings have melded, pour over vegetable mixture. Tastes better as the vegetables marinate, so cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Makes approximately 10 cups of relish.