Category Archives: cooking

A Fast and Festive Pan Dinner- Chicken Enchiladas

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Chicken and veggie enchiladas

Enchiladas have made it into my meal repertoire of late. My preference is chicken, but any protein will do. Or none!

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Carrots, spinach and green bell peppers

We are making chicken and veggie/just veggie enchiladas here (in case you have a mix of carnivores and herbivores in your household.)

I’m using large yellow corn tortillas which make pretty big enchiladas.

If you don’t want your enchiladas to become mushy you’ll need to crisp the tortillas a bit before rolling up the filling. Usually, this is done in a pan with some hot oil.

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Corn tortillas on a baking sheet, spritzed lightly with non-stick spray

However, because I’m lazy, er, efficient, I decide to spray the tortillas with non-stick spray and let them crisp slightly in the oven on low broil. Not only is this convenient and less messy but it reduces the calories.

They come out of the oven crispy but still pliable.

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Tortillas fresh out of the oven

Now for the meat filling. Any sort of cooked chicken will do: shredded thighs, chopped chicken breast, canned chicken. I am using rotisserie chicken (removed from carcass) from Costco. It comes in 3lb packages and this serving size will use about 1lb (453g) of chicken.

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Rotisserie chicken seasoned with cumin, oregano and mild chili powder

Season the chicken however you like it. I like cumin and oregano, you can use taco powder, or cayenne if you like it hot.

To stuff enchiladas, use a silicone brush and brush enchilada sauce on inside of tortilla, then layer with veggies, meat and shredded cheese. I’m using pre-shredded cheddar and canned enchilada sauce (El Pato from Cash and Carry is the best).

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Ready to roll!

I’m going to place each rolled enchilada in my baking pan covered with non-stick spray into which I’ve spooned about 1/2 cup of sauce.The last four into the pan will be vegetable/cheese only.

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Enchiladas in pan, waiting patiently…

Then I use my silicone brush and lightly coat the tortillas. Reserve about a cup of sauce for serving.

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Lightly coated with sauce

I cover with foil and place in my 350 F° (177 C°) oven. Cook covered for about 30 minutes, then remove foil, sprinkle with more cheese, and cook another 10-15 minutes. You want the tortillas to absorb the sauce but not be soggy or, conversely, dry.

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Cooked enchiladas

Place enchiladas on a serving plate then spoon heated sauce on top and add a nice blop of sour cream. I prefer mine with chives.

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You can substitute any of my ready-to-go suggestions with fresh cooked chicken, home-made sauce or hand-shredded cheese. My version keeps the prep time down to about 30 minutes.

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Jazzing Up A Kitchen Corner- Wherein I Install More Ikea Backlog

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The Ikea backlog is almost depleted. I purchased the kit for this kitchen wall rail about 3 months ago, prior to kitchen wall painting.

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Fintorp kitchen rail comes with two brackets and one 22.5″ rail

The system is expandable if you want to install a longer rail. My rail is going to be placed on the wall to the right of my stove which is just barely wider than a standard counter top depth, so one rail will work for me.

First we mark the location of the back plates (which will connect to the brackets) on the wall. I’m using a level to make the marks. It’s not easy to photograph yourself using a level.

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Me and my gigantic level

 

 

You will need your own wall fasteners for this project as Ikea does not provide any type of screw or anchor with their hardware. I like the Ikea Fixa fastener kit for this purpose. It contains 6 different types and sizes of wood screws and 3 sizes of wall anchor.

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This is the Ikea Fixa hardware kit, sold separately.

 

It is unlikely that you will be able to locate two wall studs spaced 22 inches from each other so you if you have common drywall/gypsum board you’ll want to use a drywall anchor.

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Medium size anchor and 7/16 drill bit

 

Choose a drill bit that’s slightly smaller than the diameter of your anchor. You’ll want to be able to insert the anchor, but you want it to be very snug.

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Anchor partially inserted into hole

Once the anchor is partially inserted, use a small hammer to tap it all the way in so it’s almost flush with the wall (but don’t squish it AND/OR damage your wall).

 

As the instructions below indicate (more or less) when you insert the screw into the anchor you’ll leave just a bit of space. Which allows you to slide the wall plate in snugly.

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Ikea instructions featuring “ghost screw”, my screw is 1 1/2″. Note the head is domed and not flat.

 

We dry-fit the plate to make sure we’ve placed our anchors at the correct distance apart. Flat side out, beveled side in. Plate will slide in between the anchor and the screw.

 

Then we install the brackets, removing them a few times and adjusting the screws to make sure the fit is snug.

 

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Tested for snug

 

Next we install the rail. Once the end of it is inside the far bracket (towards the back) I contort myself over the oven and place the end-cap on with my left hand. This will be easier to do if you are installing it on a portion of a wall that doesn’t terminate in a corner.

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We leave one end off to add hooks.

Rather than the Cirque du Soleil-like moves I performed, you could also assemble the unit then attach it to the wall. But I like a challenge.

Now we insert rail into the other bracket and add the end-cap to the other side.

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Voila! Relatively level.

Last step is to take your tiny hex-driver (allen wrench) and tighten the rails so they don’t slide (insert into hole at the bottom of each bracket).

And here it is with useful kitchen stuff on it.

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Cute Ikea bucket and 10 hooks. The hooks are sold in packs of 5.

One more Ikea project done! But I’m on a roll, so please stand by for my next Ikea kitchen project —tiny spice shelves–coming this week!

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I Prepare For The Fruitless Winter- Canning 100 Lbs of Tomatoes

For the last two years I have felt compelled to can tomatoes. I actually want to can a lot of things- peaches, blackberries, strawberries. But the U-pick seasons are so short I always miss them. Tomatoes I can manage easily. They aren’t even ready until the end of the summer (like me). And they are super cheap to pick (I get them locally for .60/lb) which makes canning a break even compared to buying commercially canned tomatoes in the grocery store.

I picked these tomatoes in September, probably the 2nd week.

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This is about 60 pounds of tomatoes

I don’t know what this tomato variety is called, but they are a basic globe and I picked them two years in a row. The year before last I also picked some heirloom tomatoes which look gorgeous, and taste delicious but are difficult to process for canning (thick skins and very tough and pulpy.)

Canning Equipment

Now then, I own a large pressure canner but so far I’ve only used it for water bath canning because I am essentially afraid of it. Because I canned tomatoes, which are an acidic fruit (and I also add lemon juice), I do not need to use the pressure function. However, were I to can a less acidic vegetable- like green beans or corn, or any type of meat, I would need pressure can to be sure my food was heated and sealed properly and safely.

The canning pot fits 7 quart jars or 12 pint jars. Mine is a Presto 23 Quart Pressure Canner. It comes with a bottom rack to keep your jars from touching the heated bottom. I also recommend a canning utensil kit- I bought this one: Norpro 6-Pc Canning Kit.

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Regarding jars, I buy what’s cheap. I discovered that I prefer wide mouth jars for ease of packing and for stacking in the pantry. Canning jars are available everywhere, they are about $8-$10 per dozen and can be re-used year after year. I also use canning jars for wet and dry storage.

Coring, Peeling and Seeding

You could can tomatoes without seeding or peeling them but you will regret it. The peels turn into little red stems and the seeds, well, they’re seeds. Tomatoes grown by commercial growers and sold in grocery stores tend to have smaller, softer seeds that you may not really notice while cooking with fresh tomatoes. However, farm grown varieties tend to have tougher thicker skins ans larger seeds, so you’ll want to remove them.

First, core the tomatoes using a corer or a melon baller. You can use a paring knife too if you’re talented and it’s sharp. This is also a good time to check for any units with rot on them that you will want to reject for canning (but use fresh after cutting out the bad spot).

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Tomatoes washed and cored, waiting patiently in bin

Next, you’ll need to submerge the tomatoes in boiling water followed by a quick shock in ice water to remove the skins, which should then slide right off. On my third batch, I discovered the magic of making an “x” on the bottom of the tomato with a sharp knife which helps the skins separate.

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Tomatoes in boiling water, takes about 30-60 seconds for skins to loosen up. Also lids being boiled on back burner. 

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Ice water pops the skins right off

So you’ll wind up with several containers of naked tomatoes.

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Naked tomatoes…they needed the money

Now they need to be sliced, diced, crushed, or chopped, or made into sauce (depending on how you want to can them). I spent a lot of time chopping tomatoes last year only to find that step unnecessary when I actually used them. So I quarter mine. Quartering them makes them fairly to easy to seed as well. Actually they may be in eighths…so I guess I eight’ed them.

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Tomato eighths still need to be seeded

Once they’re chopped I use my fingers to scrape out the seeds. You can waggle them around in their own liquid and that will swoosh many of the seeds out.

Canning

They are now ready to be canned. I pack them in quart and pint jars and add 1/4 tsp canning salt and 1 TBSP lemon juice (bottled) for each pint. I fill the jars with juice and salt first then cram in the tomatoes leaving about 1/2 inch of head room in top of jar. I prepare the jars in the dishwasher on sanitize and boil the lids in a pot, however since I don’t add hot liquid to these my jars are not hot. Opinions vary on this, apparently.

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First batch- 12 1/2 quarts from about 40 lbs of fresh picked tomatoes

My recipe says to process quart jars for 40 minutes and pint jars for 30 at boiling. The jars are then removed with the jar grabber and placed on a towel on the counter where they will sit, unmoved, for 24 hours.

You will know they are sealed when the lids suck down and do not flex when you press on them. You can hear the pinging of the jars as they seal! Some jars will take several hours to seal as they cool so don’t worry. If your jar doesn’t seal, you can reprocess it.

Altogether, my 100 lbs made 28 quarts of both sliced tomatoes and sauce. Sauce cooks down considerably and the 30 lbs of tomatoes I processed for sauce only made about 7 quarts. I found the best way to cook my tomato sauce was in my turkey roaster, just dropped the sliced, peeled, seeded tomatoes in and let them cook on 350 for a few a hours. You can add all of your seasonings while it’s cooking, however it’s not recommended to add cheese or oil before you can.

I use my canned tomatoes throughout the winter and spring to make spaghetti sauce, chili, taco soup, other sauces and soups. When you open the lid you can smell the difference- it’s like the smell of summer!! I only canned about half as much last year and ran out in the spring, so I’m hoping my 100 lbs will take me into next summer.

My next canning adventure will involve actually using the pressure canner feature, and hopefully not exploding myself.

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Home Brew- Home Made Ginger Beverages: Ginger Beer, Part 2

Hello! Welcome to Part Two of my ginger beer experiment. If you missed Part 1 (preparation), click here.

I removed the bottle from the cabinet, opened the lid and poured myself a small glass to taste.

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OMG. It’s completely repulsive. There is not nearly enough sugar or citrus or ginger in it and it tastes extremely alcoholic-y, even though I know it can’t be because it hasn’t fermented long enough. It resembles a $2 well vodka drink at the scuzziest bar in town (I would not know ANYTHING about where that might be.) And I think the bread yeast is what’s doing that. It’s definitely not what I was going for. That being said, I think twice the amount of ginger, sugar and citrus may have made it somewhat palatable (over ice, mixed with juice, holding my nose… maybe.) Maybe not.

I am on the fence about trying the yeast method again, so I think I’ll try the ginger ale soda method next and see if I can get a beverage that meets my needs.

So check back in for Part Three, Ginger Ale- soda style.

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Home Brew – Home Made Ginger Beverages: Ginger Beer, Part 1

I’m obsessed with ginger ale and ginger beer. Can’t get enough. I like the super gingery craft beer with the bite, I like the store brand ginger ale with it’s cloying sweetness. Ginger ale/beer is the perfect base for non-alcoholic beverages that are interesting.

So I decided to make my own. There are two ways to make ginger beer:

  • Yeast method: uses fresh ginger, fresh lemon juice, sugar, water and yeast. Place ingredients in a plastic bottle (two liter seems to be the preferred vessel) and allow the yeast to ferment the sugar and create carbonation. Takes about 2 days.
  • Starter method: this method is similar to brewing of kombucha, fermented black tea. You create a starter (a ginger bug) using ginger sugar and lemon, then “feed it” over the course of a few weeks, then mix your starter with more prepared ginger liquid which then ferments and creates carbonation.

Ginger Ale is an easier affair- it’s basically ginger soda and is made by mixing ginger syrup with carbonated water (ala Canada Dry).

I decided to try the yeast method first and make ginger beer. I am going to a dinner party on Saturday and I wanted to bring a little “somethin'” .

I am using Alton Brown’s (Food Network) recipe which is entiled Ginger Ale but is in fact Ginger Beer (because it’s fermented).

Ingredients

1 1/2 ounces finely grated fresh ginger
6 ounces sugar
7 1/2 cups filtered water
1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions

Place the ginger, sugar, and 1/2 cup of the water into a 2-quart saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to steep for 1 hour.

Pour the syrup through a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl, pressing down to get all of the juice out of the mixture. Chill quickly by placing over and ice bath and stirring or set in the refrigerator, uncovered, until at least room temperature, 68 to 72 degrees F.

Using a funnel, pour the syrup into a clean 2-liter plastic bottle and add the yeast, lemon juice and remaining 7 cups of water. Place the cap on the bottle, gently shake to combine and leave the bottle at room temperature for 48 hours. Open and check for desired amount of carbonation. It is important that once you achieve your desired amount of carbonation that you refrigerate the ginger ale. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, opening the bottle at least once a day to let out excess carbonation.

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Okay. So the first thing I did is NOT READ THE INSTRUCTIONS CORRECTLY, even though I read them about 50 times. So of course I added the lemon to the syrup. Big woo.

I started grating the ginger with the fine side of my cheese grater which became very tedious almost immediately. So I chopped the rest of the ginger up and threw it in my mini food processer. I put it in a pan with my lemon juice (NO!!) sugar and some lemon zest (because I thought “Why not??”)

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The mixture simmered accordingly as I washed out a two-liter bottle.

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After the sugar dissolved I removed it from the heat. Then I went to Office Depot to buy ink. Then I went out for dinner. So by the time I returned my syrup was gooood and gingery. I strained the mixture using this:

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And also this (although I think the cheesecloth may be overkill). But it was easy to squeeze all the liquid out.

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Then added the syrup to the bottle. I used filtered water from my fridge for the remaining 7 cups and also poured it into the bottle (and more lemon juice).

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Now it was time to add the yeast: I had an bit of an issue, however. The recipe calls for 1/8 tsp and the smallest measuring spoon I possess is 1/4. So I had to wing it. Many of the recipes you will find online call for brewer’s yeast or champagne yeast. Apparently, if baking yeast is used, the final product can taste..well, yeasty. I’ll be finding out how much of an issue that is.

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Okay! So now it’s lurking in my bottom cupboard (too cold in the garage) and should be carbonated in about two days. I will return in two days with results!

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Home Brew- Kombucha

I stumbled across the word “kombucha” while looking at online reviews for a small pub that I wanted to check out. They reportedly have it “on tap” and I was intrigued– what was it? Some type of cider or beer? Was it like hop tea?

What it is, is fermented black tea, invented by (obviously) ancient Chinese people 5000 years ago. Apparently it has been commercially bottled and available in the US since the 90’s. I had never heard of it, and I’ve grown my own kefir and made my own yogurt. I’m guessing kombucha was largely the domain of hippies and health nuts back in the day, but it seems to have been noticed by hipsters of late, which has propelled it into the mainstream (at least in Portland, where the hipsters will no doubt now decide that because SUBURBAN DIY’ers from Salem have discovered it, it’s “OVER”.)

Kombucha is purported to have many health benefits such as:

  • Improved Digestion
  • Weight Loss
  • Increased Energy
  • Cleansing and Detoxification
  • Immune Support
  • Reduced Joint Pain
  • Cancer Prevention

These claims are (of course) unsubstantiated by the medical community, at least in the US. However, I KNOW echinacea will help me get over a cold faster than not taking it, which is also not scientifically proven, so make up your own mind about it. Ya never know.

Then I remembered seeing some bottled kombucha beverages in my local Fred Meyer natural food area, both refrigerated and room temp. So I purchased a selection to sample. Let me add that this product is not cheap, it goes for about $3 per 12 to 16oz bottle.

As a proper DIYer, I quickly asserted that I CAN MAKE THAT. So here’s what I did.

  1. Went on-the-line

Quickly discovered a number of kombucha making resources. Some sites offer “kits” and others describe how it is it to gather your own humble materials and put your own kit together.

2.  Decided to make my own kit.

I purchased a 1-gallon glass jar ($11) and a bottle of raw, unpasteurized, unflavored bottled kombucha. The other materials I already had: canning jars and high quality cheese cloth.

3. Went for it.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1-gallon glass jar, with a somewhat wide mouth
  • 2-qt glass jar (for first batch)
  • canning jars or bottles (bottles are more expensive, I already own dozens of jars) with lids
  • Good cheese cloth, or a thin cotton dish towel, or paper towels
  • Black tea- I used 4 “family size” bags meant for iced tea making, any brand. I’ve used generic and Lipton. If you already have loose tea supplies feel free to use these.
  • 1 16oz bottle of raw kombucha
  • 1 cup white sugar

First Batch (this is how will you will start your SCOBY)

Boil sugar in some water, it doesn’t matter how much. Once sugar is dissolved remove from heat and immediate add 2 large tea bags (or equivalent loose tea/small bags- enough to make 1 1/2 qt of tea). Let steep for about an hour (or several hours).

Let cool– very important. Hot water will kill your bacteria and yeast.

Pour pre-bottled kombucha (room temp) into 2-quart glass jar, add cooled tea. Cover jar with cheese cloth fastened with a rubber band. Keep in a relatively warm area (70-75 degrees is good) for 7-14 days.

If you’ve done it properly (and it’s hard to screw up), you will see the SCOBY forming in about 4-5 days. At first the surface will have a milky film, this is good. Then at about 5 days you’ll see floating stuff and think, “Oh crap! is that mold??” It probably isn’t; certain areas of the SCOBY may be dark, this is normal.

Keep checking. Eventually, you’ll get something that looks like this

When you do, it’s time to brew your second batch, which is the one you will actually sip and enjoy.

Second Batch

With clean hands, carefully remove SCOBY from floating on top of jar. It will be firm, don’t worry. Set aside. Discard all but two cups of the first batch of tea. You can drink it but it’s very tart and I already tried it. I’m going with NO.

My SCOBY

My SCOBY

Prepare tea & sugar like the first batch only use 4 tea bags (steep and let cool) then add to the reserved liquid from first batch. Add enough water to bring the total volume to one gallon, leaving at least one inch of air space. Add SCOBY, cover with cheese cloth. Wait another week. Taste kombucha after about 5 days and check it for tartness, sweetness, fizziness. when you are satisfied, it’s time to bottle.

BOTTLING

You will of course reserve two cups of the tea for your next batch, so yield should be about 3 1/2 quarts. I poured mine into 3 quart size and one pint size canning jars. At this point, should you desire additional fizz, you can afix lids and store in a dark warm area for a few more days, leaving 1″ head room for carbonation. I felt my batch was sufficiently fizzy so I added fresh peach slices and stored in the fridge for immediate consumption.

Here’s a link to some kombucha recipes and more instructions. They also have several suggestions regarding bottling if you are going to double ferment for more fizziness.

https://www.culturesforhealth.com/flavoring-bottling-kombucha

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