Thursday, April 23, 2009

Early Garden Progress

We are getting closer to the time when we can plant warm-weather crops here in central Ohio, but we aren't there yet. I was at a local nursery today and wondered how many of the people buying tomato plants were going to be planting them today or very soon. It's always a disaster when they try, more cold is coming sometime between now and the 2nd week of May.

However, I am going to experiment with some early tomatoes, using my Wall-O-Water plastic protectors. I started last year at the beginning of May using them, and they worked great. Now I want to push it up a week and try planting here now during the 4th week of May. I have heard people starting a lot earlier than this using the WOW's but I want to ease my way into it, and experiment with 4 Better Boy plants. I should be planting those tomorrow, and will report on their progress.

As I said in a previous post, I planted some early crops as early as March 10th. I also posted a picture of the spot, though it was bare. So here is the same spot as of yesterday, April 23rd:

From 2009 Garden

Left to right are spinach (Bloomsdale) looseleaf lettuce (Salad Bowl), bibb and romaine lettuce, and radishes. The romaine is from seeds I kept from last year, something I want to do more with other vegetables.

And nearby here are the peas (Sugar Snaps):

From 2009 Garden

So things are growing, thriving so far in the garden. The target date that I set months ago for that first salad is May 1, that might be a bit overambitious. However, the weather forecast shows that it is going to be quite warm between now and then, so we will see.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Growing Portabella Mushrooms

I've noticed mushroom growing kits in catalogues and online for a few years now. 'The Gurlyfriend' Sue bought me one for my birthday, a portabella mushroom kit, that she got through Harris Seeds, It took several weeks for it to arrive, but Harris farms these out to another company.

It comes in a box, apparently it is sterilized manure, and with a bag of inoculated medium.

From Cooking, Canning, Gardening

The first step was to open the box, and arrange the medium on top of the soil in the box. Then it was kept in a dark area for a week. After a week, you form a tent with an enclosed bag that has holes for air in it. You wait for at least a week, misting/spraying it every other day with water. Then little pinheads of portas start to appear.

From Cooking, Canning, Gardening

These go quickly, about 4-5 days or so, from pinheads to large mushrooms.

From Cooking, Canning, Gardening

They really tasted good sauteed and on top of a NY strip

From Cooking, Canning, Gardening

From Cooking, Canning, Gardening

Time will tell if this is worth the money or not, but either way it is a lot of fun.

From Cooking, Canning, Gardening

Chipotle Cheddar

Back in the beginning of March I got the idea to make some chipotle peppers. Chipotles are smoked jalapenos, if I remember correctly they are red jalapenos. Since I was limited to store-bought jalas I had to settle on green ones. I started a low-heat smoke and smoked them for about maybe 8 hours, but I think it was longer. The idea is to smoke them, dry them, but not cook them.

From Cooking, Canning, Gardening

After smoking the peppers I placed them in the oven to dry them completely. I dry herbs and other things in this same manner. Place your oven at the lowest temperature it will go, generally this is 150-170 F, and leave the door of the oven cracked. I sometimes turn the oven off from time to time, just so that it doesn't get too warm. Again, I want to dry them, not cook them.

After they are dried, they can be put into oil, or an adobo sauce, or ground. I ground mine in my coffee grinder. If you do this, be *SURE* to wash out the grinder completely before using it for coffee. Otherwise the resulting coffee will REALLY wake you up.

I wont go into all of the cheese making steps, that will have to come in another post. But what I did was to make a cheese but not age it. It doesn't have some of the flavor that an aged cheese will have, but it is done in 24 hours. I do this occasionally when I need a 'quick fix', and it turns out well.

First I boiled 1.5 TB of the chipotle powder in about 1/4 cup of water for 10 mins. You have to watch this closely so that it doesn't boil dry. Add a bit of hot water if it starts drying too much in the pan.

I used two gallons of milk (store-bought) 1/2 tsp of Calcium Chloride, homemade cheese culture** and 1/2 tsp of rennet to set the curds at 90 degrees. Before adding the rennet to curdle the milk, I stirred in the chipotle powder in water.

After the curds set, the curds were cut into 1/2 inch cubes, then the temp was raised to 100 degrees over about 30 mins. The curds were then poured into a piece of cheesecloth (muslin, not the standard 'cheesecloth' that you see in stores) and drained for over an hour hanging over a bowl.

After draining, the curds are broken up and placed in a bowl and 1 TB of canning salt mixed in thoroughly. Then it was placed into a mold and that placed on my newly-built cheese press.

From Cheese Making

It's a graduated process to press the cheese. First it is pressed at a 10 lbs of pressure for 10 minutes, then the cheese is flipped over in the mold, pressed again for 10 minutes. Then it is flipped again and pressed at 40 lbs of pressure for 12 hours. Since most recipes are written for 4 inch molds, and the homemade molds that I used this time are 8 inches in diameter, I had to double the weight.

Then I let it air-dry for a few hours to get a bit of a rind on it, and I was done. It really has great flavor and a bit of kick to it also.

From Cheese Making

From Cheese Making

** I doubt that the culture was necessary since this is not an aged cheese, I think I did it out of habit more than anything. However, I make my own mesophilic culture and that is very easy. Take a pint of buttermilk and let it sit at room temperature overnight. Pour it into ice cube trays and when it is frozen, break out the cubes and place them in a freezer bags and place in freezer. They will keep for a month this way.
Also, I noticed after posting this that the cheese looks a lot more lumpy/crumbly in the photographs than it really is in real life.