Monday, September 22, 2014

Pico De Gallo - Fresh From The Garden

One of my favorite things about having a garden is the ability to have fresh Pico De Gallo. Of course, I have to wait until late August for the tomatoes to fully ripen, but by the time they are ready, I'm still harvesting plenty of jalapeno peppers and the last of the cilantro.

I make Pico De Gallo at least once a week. For most of the year, I use store-bought tomatoes or even canned petite diced tomatoes, whole jalapenos I've frozen, dried cilantro and store-bought onions. It's good, but the fresh Pico de Gallo is worlds better! We could easily make a meal of it, and often have when the "Pickles" are elsewhere and it's just Mr. LH and I for the evening.

Pico De Gallo

2 cups of fresh diced tomatoes (or one can petite diced tomatoes, NOT drained)
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 TBS finely chopped fresh cilantro (or 1 tsp dried cilantro)
2 tsp lime or lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
(or you could substitute 1 to 1 1/2 tsp total lemon pepper seasoning for the lemon juice AND the ground black pepper) 
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour to let the flavors meld together. Serve with tortilla chips.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Apples Chips, Apple Bits & Apple Powder - Dehydrating Apples

When I have a farm... (lots of my sentences start like that these days)

Anyway, when I have a farm I will definitely plant fruit trees on it. I will plant every type of fruit tree I can find that will grow in my altitude and hardiness zone. And I will start with apples.

Last week, Sprouts Farmers Market had a wonderful sale on Gala and Granny Smith apples and I left the store with several bags of them. (I even met a lady there that was buying loads of them for her horses)

Of course, some of those apples would find their way into lunchboxes, apple fritters, fried apples and hand pies, but the rest would be dehydrated into apple chips, apple bits and even apple powder for use later when apple harvesting season is over.

With my handy-dandy apple peeler/corer/slicer, I can quickly get apples into the dehydrator. I searched everywhere for an apple peeler at thrift stores and yard sales before I finally gave up and purchased one. Mine has a clamp to keep it firmly attached to my table top or counter edge, but you can get one with a strong suction cup instead like this one on Amazon. It's really just a matter of preference.

The apple peeler is not a necessary tool, but it makes the peeling, coring and slicing go so much faster. And it's enough of a novelty that the "Pickles" don't mind helping me with it.

Once the apples are peeled, I cut the whole apple in half making half-slices. I prefer the rings, but the half-slices take up less space. If you want to make rings, slice through only one side of the apple once it's peeled. Here's a detailed YouTube video you can watch that will show you how to make the apple rings.

The slices are dipped in lemon or pineapple juice diluted with water and then placed in a single layer on the drying tray.

Some of them are sprinkled with cinnamon before drying.

Dried apple chips make for a tasty and healthy snack and are great for trail food, too. You can also use them in baking. Just re-hydrate the apples with some water for use in a pie.

Some apple slices get chopped up into smaller pieces and are dehydrated into tiny apple bits. These bits are great on oatmeal (add them to your DIY Oatmeal Packets) or in granola. You can also top your cereal or yogurt with dried apple bits. Add them to your muffin batter, cookies and pancake batter too (you may need to add a bit more liquid to your recipes to help re-hydrate the apples a bit).

The apple skins that are removed by the peeler are also dried in the dehydrator until they are crispy.

Once they are dry and crispy, they can be ground in a food processor (or blender or coffee grinder) into a powder. This powder can be added to tea, smoothies, pancake or waffle batter, or to anything else where you want to add an extra punch of apple flavor. It won't dilute foods like cider and juice can, but you will need to use more powder to get the same "oomph" of flavor that cider will give.

I dry my apples at about 130 degrees. It takes several hours to dry them. If I fill the dehydrator in the morning, I usually don't turn it off until around dinnertime. I like my apples to have a bit of "chew" to them like raisins or mangoes you might buy in a store. The Boy likes his apple chips to be crispy like potato chips so his dry for much longer.

Once the apples have finished dehydrating to your likeness, let them cool down before storing them (they get more crisp as they cool).

Note: The dehydrator I use is a 9-tray Excalibur I received second hand from my mom. I've been using it for about 10 years and my mom had it for about as long before getting a new one and giving this one to me. It's has been wonderful and I highly recommend it!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Catching Up

Wow! September is already half over!

I've been pretty slack in tending to this blog in the last month. I'll need to devote some time in the next couple of weeks to writing in more detail about our end-of-summer activities.

Aside from a brief mention, I never wrote anything about The Boy's scout camp in late July / early August.

The scout group had to deal with miserable weather for the first half of their week (lightening, hail, downpours...) but everything turned out great in the end. When we visited the camp for "family night" , we noticed that The Boy, who is usually very shy and quiet, seemed to have really blossomed during his week at camp. He's already excited about next year!

As the end of summer break neared, we couldn't get away for several days in a row for a "proper vacation". We planned a couple of back-to-back day trips instead. On the first day, we headed into the mountains visiting places along the Lariat Loop like Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater and Buffalo Bill's Museum and Grave.

The following day, we piled into the car again. Driving just a few minutes east of town puts you right smack in the middle of nothing but prairie. That's where you'll find the Aurora Reservoir.  The Arapahoe County Fairgrounds are also nearby. We took advantage of a coupon offer - car admission, 2 hours pedal boat rental and lunch for four for $30.

Aside from the pedal boats, there were row boats, kayaks and canoes for rent, hiking trails, picnic tables, a playground and even some sand and a swim area. It was as close to the beach as we could manage on short notice but no one minded. Spending time out on the water was incredibly relaxing.

School started on August 18th. It was a little more difficult this year getting into the school routine again. The Girl started her first year in middle school and The Boy is a freshman in high school so there were a lot of big changes and adjustments for both of them.

The Girl had her 11th birthday last week. It was a small, quiet family celebration (my favorite kind) and as always, I made her birthday cake. She's is really into Pokemon now so she wanted a Pokemon cake. She also wanted it to be a Tres Leches cake. I made this recipe for Coconut Tres Leches Cake from Mel's Kitchen Cafe. It's REALLY good. Not too sweet.

To decorate, I "drew" a Pokemon ("Charmander") on her cake using an image I found on Google as a template and guide. Colored shredded coconut and a smidgen of additional icing were used to "color in" the drawing.

The "garden" looks a little shabbier than it did a month ago, but it is still producing beautiful tomatoes!

I've been using them as I need them and freezing the rest whole until I have enough to can. I've heard freezing makes the tomatoes easier to peel (just thaw and slip the skins off) so I plan to experiment with that this year. If it doesn't work, I'll just toss it all into the KitchenAid strainer attachment and let IT do the work. Side note: If you think you will ever need to grind your own meat, the KitchenAid strainer with the additional grinder attachment is worth it. The grinder works great for making my own ground pork.

The pole beans rebounded after their dismal summer. I might get enough out of these plants to actually manage a side dish before fall!

The last hail storm in August pretty much decimated the large zucchini plants. But beneath the prickly, punctured, shriveled leaves, I noticed some new growth and several tiny zucchini!

Our days start an hour earlier now (The Boy has to catch the school bus at 6:30 in the morning!) and while having that extra hour is wonderful, I feel like I haven't quite gotten my own routine worked out yet. I still feel incredibly rushed...perhaps because of my too long "to-do list".

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