Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How To Make Cheese: Organic Farmers Cheese

I often like to make organic farmer's cheese on the weekends.  In this blog post, I will talk about how to make cheese and some of the different variations of cheese that you can make easily at home, with little fuss.  In order to make farmer's cheese, you will need a small amount of kitchen equipment:

A collander
A food thermometer
Some cheesecloth
A stockpot
A large ceramic bowl

And, of course, a recipe on how to make organic farmers cheese.

The most important thing about making farmers cheese is to make sure your equipment is clean, dry and sterilized..   Any time you are handling dairy products, this is key to preventing unwanted contamination in the finished product.  I prefer to use metal, ceramic and glass items for this reason, over plastic.  Wooden spoons are okay, but a metal one is preferrable for stirring.

A long time ago, these simple recipes were the common property of housewives who didn't often go to the store or market to buy them, but rather did them at home.  Specialty cheeses from different regions were bought at market, but everyday food rarely was.  Learning how to make cheese was the mark of a good homemaker's education, along with baking bread, and simple stews like pottage.

For my part, I love garlic and herb cheese.  Or slightly spicy cheese with cayenne, black pepper and paprika.  I keep the milkfat content high because I find that makes a smoother, tastier farmers cheese.  I do realize that it makes it less healthy than it could be, but I also think limited quantities are fine.   The milk is organic and there are no preservatives in my homemade cheese.

I learned how to make cheese through trial and error.  I think one of the things that surprised me most is how much milk is required to make cheese.  You might be surprised that a gallon of milk leads to such a small quantity of farmers cheese.  I know, for my part, it made me appreciate how much milk goes into the process when you make homemade cheese!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not: Using Leftovers In A Kitchen Sink Soup Recipe

When I was little, my mother used to make something she called  "Kitchen Sink Soup".  She learned about it from her mom, who lived through the Great Depression Making soup is super easy, and both my mother and grandmother often saved money on the food budget by putting leftover bits of vegetable, cooked grains, beans, meat and peas into a pot.  It was a delicious, nutritious low-cost meal, with salad and bread that could really fill the gap when money was tight.  To this day, I use this Kitchen Sink Soup recipe whenever I have leftovers in the fridge I can't figure out how to use.  The soup freezes beautifully, by the way, so you can make it year-round.  The name "Kitchen Sink Soup" refers to the fact that you can put anything in it, ie ‘all but the kitchen sink’.  Today, I am going to talk about how to make a soup, and the many variations thereof.
Often, you’ll have little bits of vegetable or grain leftovers in your fridge in small containers.  Or the last remnants of frozen veggies in the freezer.  Those are the start of a great soup, in and of themselves! This soup is never boring, never the same twice.  This Kitchen Sink Soup recipe can be vegetarian, or sometimes you can put bits of meat or seafood in it, too. 

The first thing you’ll need is a large pot, though even a medium sized pot will do.  If you use a medium size pot, you’ll simply get less soup!   I usually start out with a Dutch oven.  I put in 6 cups of water to start (try 3-4 for a medium size pot, more for a stock pot), and put the water on medium, so it slowly boils as I scour the fridge for ingredients.  I might chop up half an onion and carrot from the vegetable bin.  Cut up a remnant of a zucchini, and a green pepper.  There might be some tomato sauce, or left over canned tomatoes to toss in.  Canned beans are a fine addition, especially if you all ready used half for another dish.  The point is, there is almost no wrong way to make soup.  It’s the flavor at the end that determines success.  The point of this  Kitchen Sink Soup recipe is to keep you from throwing out little bits of veg you don’t know what to do with, contributing to food waste.  If you have a little bit of frozen peas or broccoli left, even if it's not enough for just one person, toss that in.  A bit of chicken left over?  Go on.  Or maybe some pot roast ends?  Keep tossing.  Summer squash,  asparagus and green beans next, but remember it is what you have in YOUR fridge. Even if they aren't 'pretty looking', they'll do fine (just nothing truly gone over to the dark side, that should be composted!) Add some salt to taste, maybe some dried herbs like oregano, parsley, basil leaves.  Have some left over boiled potatoes?  In they go.  I clean out my fridge when making my Kitchen Sink Soup recipe and just pile up the empty containers in the sink.    The only thing to remember is don’t put the rice, barley or pasta in until the end or it will soak up all of your water!   Remember, when you make a soup it is important to taste as you go along, adjusting for your own personal tastes.  If the water seems to boil down, add a bit more and taste.  Try not to overcook Kitchen Sink Soup – remember, most of the ingredients are pre-cooked, so you’re merely making and seasoning the broth they’re in and warming them up.  The main thing to remember when making soup is to balance the flavors – too many strong tasting things like onions, peppers and garlic will give you a strong tasting soup, so also add carrots, peas and other milder vegetables to balance things out.

I love that Kitchen Sink Soup can be anything you want it to be; it can be vegan or vegetarian, or it can be a seafood lovers' paradise, or a meat lover's delight.  It just depends on what you have on hand that can be repurposed!

Learning how to use leftovers is an important skill.  Not only does it help you keep food on a budget, Kitchen Sink Soup is a healthy meal that helps to prevent food waste, or reduce food waste. I try to stop food waste where I can, using leftovers to best advantage. While we put fruit and vegetable peels in the composter, it seems a shame to put perfectly good food in the scrap heap when all it takes is a little imagination, a large cook pot and some easy instructions on how to make a soup!

Copyright 2011 GuiltedLily Productions, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Review of Thames & Kosmos Wind Power 2.0 - Build A WindTurbine Kit

I got a Thames & Kosmos Wind Power 2.0 Kit as part of a rebate for Procter & Gamble's Future Friendly marketing effort.  I was all ready going to buy the products that qualified for the wind turbine kit, and the wind turbine kit was a freebie, so why not?  It retails for about $39.99 so it's kind of a nice opportunity to make a wind turbine for a low cost. I had always wanted to see the workings of a wind power turbine, because I am green-geeky like that!  Plus, this DIY wind power turbine kit has the benefit of being able to, in theory, charge a rechargeable battery using wind power...and that's kind of cool.  So, we went for it and are going to show you, through our experience, how to make a wind turbine.

The wind power turbine kit arrived a couple of weeks ago and has been sitting on my dining table until my husband and I had a chance to sit down and read the assembly instructions.  The wind turbine we wanted to build had long blades and used about 99 pieces, which sounded like a lot to us (until we started assembling it).  I have to say the directions were very well written, probably because this is intended to be a child's project, good for ages 8+.  (We figured we qualified because we're very young at heart! lol)

So, we got out all the pieces.  Since there were 99, we were pretty methodical about it.  A child might not be quite as methodical, so I can advise adult supervision at least initially.

We put the gear box together first -

The assembly wasn't too difficult until we got to the gears.  We put them in the way the illustration showed, but there was some issue later on with having to pull them out when it was mostly assembled and put them back in again.  We also had to read up on the 1:3, 1:1 and 3:1 gear ratios and test them until we figured out which one gave us the most spin to our blades.  (There's not a whole lot of wind in Florida, so we went with 'whatever allowed the blades to turn the easiest').

Then, we attached the LED light and the battery/power storage box , and built the base -

 It was at this point we had to adjust the gears, and to be honest neither of us is mechanically inclined in a way that makes us understand gear boxes.  Electrical?  Sure. I can even repair a VCR, but I am not familiar with gear boxes at all.  Still, we managed okay.   After all, the bloody thing works!

Last, we attached the blades and gave it a test run -

All in all, this was simpler than we thought it would be when looking at the instructions.  There are two little battery carriers that can be attached - the blue one is to run the turbine off a battery and the green one can be used to recharge a rechargeable battery if you have sufficient wind available to do so.

I would definitely recommend this kit - I think kids who are inclined to science would enjoy it and anyway its just fun sometimes to assemble things with Legos and that was what this was like.  Apparently, you can also build a car that can be given juice from the wind turbine to propel it forward, though we haven't tried that, yet. I would rate this kit a 4 out of 5 stars.