Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Decorative Oil Bottles

*** WARNING ***
These are ONLY for decorative purposes and are not meant to be used in food. After further researching this, I found that there is a danger of botulism poisoning if used for food purposes. This is because when food is placed in an anaerobic environment, as when placed in oil, there is a danger of botulism forming its lethal toxins. So again, THESE ARE ONLY TO BE USED FOR DECORATIVE PURPOSES. You COULD use them in food, but ONLY within a couple weeks of preparing them, AND it is kept in the refrigerator. But oil congeals when kept cold and it looks horrible.
*** OK, I'm done with my disclaimer!

OK guys, I realize this is kind of a 'girlie' project, oh well. This makes some nice gifts and the woman in your life, friends and family love handmade gifts.

I've made these before, but the hardest part of doing it is finding nice bottles. Empty decorative bottles are incredibly expensive. If anyone knows a good source of decorative bottles that aren't too expensive, let me know.

I found some olive oils in fancy bottles marked down drastically at Kroger's recently. I bought about a dozen of them, they were marked $2.00 and $2.50, so I got as many as I could at the time.

First I had to remove the labels. Many will come off easily after being soaked in water. A few of them were very stubborn and I had to use mineral spirits. I just had to be careful not to get the spirits near the opening. I don't think anyone would like mineral spirits flavored olive oil!

Then I got my garlic out, then cut a few things out of my herb garden; oregano and a little chives, including one flower top of the garlic chives.

I gently smashed some garlic cloves with a butter knife

I smashed it to release some of the oils from the garlic. I placed several garlic cloves in the jars. In some bottles I also placed a sprig of oregano. Here is a before and after picture

Here's a hint, to remove garlic smell from your hands. Wet your fingers a little bit in water, then sprinkle salt liberally on the affected areas, and rub it in (don't do this with an open cut on your hands!) then rinse the salt off. POOF! Gone!

In others I placed a few lengths of chives, in one of them I placed a flower top from the chives

Basil works well this also. To make dipping oils, just be imaginative and use spices that would work well in a dipping oil; hot pepper flakes, or basil/oregano/chopped garlic, whatever you want to use. Here is a bottle with a little hot pepper flakes and chopped garlic

These make nice gifts and I was able to do this for about $2-$2.50 per bottle.

Spinach, Blanching and Freezing

My spinach is ready so I cut a small amount to show how to blanch and freeze it. It's a lot more efficient to do this in larger batches, but I cut just a small amount to show how you do this. It's very easy, and a simple text explanation would probably suffice, but I know that pictures and step-by-step directions are helpful.

After cutting you want to wash the spinach well. Spinach has all kinds of nooks and crannies for dirt to hide. After washing your sink well, place the spinach in the sink and move it around in cold water.

Start a pot of boiling water and after the water starts to boil, pour the spinach into the pot

It will shrink down to almost nothing. Boil it for one minute, then remove it from the pot and dump into cold water to stop the cooking process.

Now you want to drain it, and drain it WELL. First I drained it in a colander

I even went as far as placing it on a CLEAN towel and squeezing more water out of it.

Now all you have to do is place it in a freezer bag, or freezer container of some sort. I like to use my FoodSaver vacuum sealer

ALWAYS label your freezer bags/containers. The few times that I haven't, I have regretted it. Six months later you don't want to pull something out of the freezer and wonder "What the heck is this, and how old is it?"

So, as you can see, blanching is easy. The only thing that varies is the amount of time you hold it in the boiling water. Things like broccoli/cauliflower take about 3 minutes, but something thin like spinach only takes a minute.

Blanching slows or stops the action of enzymes in the plants. While the vegetables are living, enzymes cause vegetables to grow. If vegetables are not blanched, the enzymes continue to be active during storage causing off-colors, off-flavors and toughening of the vegetable.

I grew a lot more spinach this year than I usually do, just to try freezing as much as I could. Spinach doesn't grow well in hot weather and normally I get to eat it only for a few weeks. I hope to extend the spinach-eating this year!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Spring 2010 Garden Update

As you can see above, I cut my first salad this past Wednesday, May 5th. I use May 1st as a target date; last year it was about April 28th, the year before it was about May 5th. As I have stated before, I like to harvest my first salad at about the same time most people are thinking of breaking ground and buying seed. I'm fairly competitive, even with my gardening. I think they should come out with a full-contact gardening Olympic event.

Here I am cutting my first spinach, lettuce and pulling a green onion for salad

The two rows of green in the pic are two different plantings of spinach. I grew a lot of it and hope to blanch/freeze some of it.

You can't see it in the pic but in the back row is garlic, in between the two green rows are a couple rows of onions. I'm going to plant more onions from sets because I end up eating so many pulled early for green onions for salads.

My taters are popping through the ground too. Yukon Gold was the variety I planted this year. I've had pretty good success with that variety, and can't wait for my first 'new taters.'

Every year I try something new, and this year it is kale and collards. They popped through the surface just in the past couple of days. I just discovered collard greens this year, and really like them. I cook them with a piece of bacon added to the pot, then add vinegar to them when I am ready to eat them. That's how I learned to like spinach when I was a kid, the vinegar really made it good.

I also have Bibb and a Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce that are ready to be cut. You have to plant lettuce and spinach early, they don't do well after things heat up outside. I usually plant these early veggies about mid-March here in central Ohio.

Sugar Snap peas are an edible-pod pea variety and I planted two 10-foot rows of those, each row on other sides of a trellis. I trellis them with a couple of 2x2 posts with wire strung between the posts. What I don't eat fresh I blanch and freeze, then vacuum pack.

I have grown herbs for a number of years now, but increased my planting this year. Usually they are limited to my small herb gardens, but planted a couple of 10 foot rows of basil, and a row each of cilantro and parsley right in my veggie garden. I think I might be able to sell some of them at a local farm market(?) Even if I can't sell them, fresh herbs are a great gift and I will give a lot away to friends and neighbors.

Purple basil is something I discovered last year. It can be used as any other basil, but I infused vinegar with it and it looks beautiful. The vinegar turns a beautiful purple/pinkish color and has the basil taste also. So I am growing it again, but this year I am growing a row that is about 6 feet long.

Most of my perennial herbs are doing well again this year; sage, oregano, lemon thyme and lime thyme, chives (and some garlic chives.) I planted tarragon last year, for making tarragon vinegar, and didn't realize until this spring that it is a perennial also. It came up with a fury and my tarragon plants are already a couple of feet tall!


I planted a LOT of sweet basil this year. I like to use it fresh in cooking, but a good way to use it is to make pesto. I make large batches of it then put it in ice cube trays and freeze it. Then I put the cubes in freezer bags. I can already taste it spread on a piece of homemade Italian bread, or a dollop of it in a pasta dish.

Here is one of my two little herb gardens as it looked the other day. I will plant a few more things in the spaces that are open. The 2 potted plants are my babies, my bay trees. You can't beat fresh bay leaves for cooking and you won't go back to store-bought, dried out bay leaves once you have tried the fresh ones.

The fall is when you are supposed to plant garlic, and I usually do plant it then. However, it just didn't work out this past fall, and I planted the garlic early this spring. If you plant in spring, the bulbs are much smaller compared to autumn-planted garlic. I had some HUGE garlic bulbs the past couple of years, and I am kicking myself for not planting it last fall. Oh well, there's always next year...

Just for kicks and giggles, I planted a line of Mammoth Sunflowers in the back row of the garden. That should look pretty nice, and they produce quite a few seeds for eating, roasting, etc

The temperature is supposed to go down to an overnight low in the high 30's this weekend, so I am going to wait to plant the maters and peppers. I can, however, plant broccoli and cabbage any time now, they tolerate cool temperatures very well.

My grapes (Concord and Catawba) are growing well too, and showing small flowers/bunches already. I need to spray them with Mancozeb soon, this will help prevent what I think is called black rot. The grapes will form normally, then almost overnight a black spot appears on the end of the grape and the whole grape dies, and dies quickly. One day you notice a spot on the grapes and in a couple of days your grapes are gone. It broke my heart when that happened a couple years in a row until I discovered Mancozeb.

I think I am losing my favorite tree, my sour cherry. Last year the leaves formed then a large number of the leaves just wilted, and I didn't get any cherries from the tree. This year it appears that the same thing is happening. I need to get a picture to the extension office or some other experts for their opinion of what is happening.

So the garden is progressing. I'm eating out of the garden already, but still have things to plant as soon as I can, and when the weather permits. Things are getting pretty exciting for this gardener

Monday, May 3, 2010

Jalapeno Poppers

I wanted to use my fish batter recipe in something new, and thought of making jalapeno poppers. When the garden starts producing later this summer, this should be good for some other varieties of peppers also.


I will save some typing and point you
HERE for the batter recipe. Basically I am substituting stuffed jalapenos in place of the fish.

Stuffing the jalapenos

I made this up as I went, just do it to taste. Use some imagination and add whatever you would like. I started by frying about 5 pieces of my homemade bacon (check it out
HERE) You can use store-bought bacon, of course. Make it crisp then break it up into fairly small pieces.

Next I added the crumbled bacon to about 8 ounces of whipped sour cream. Then I added a bit of salt, freshly-cracked black pepper, garlic, and onion powder

Next I picked out 12 of the largest jalapenos I could find. First, let me strongly advise you to use rubber gloves when working with hot peppers. I used to work in an emergency room and every summer at least one person would come in with terrible pain, because they were working with hot peppers but no gloves on.

I slit them lengthwise on one side so that I could make a pocket for the filling

Then I used a very small spoon to scoop out the seeds, being careful not to break or crack the jalapeno since I needed a pocket to place the filling.

Then using a spoon (you could use a pastry stuffer) I filled the pepper with the filling

Following the fish batter directions, the first step in coating the fish is to roll the fish in the dry ingredients on the cookie sheet. Jalapenos are not sticky like fish so I had to improvise. I didn't want to dip them in water or milk because it would have been too much liquid. So I wet my fingers a little bit and rubbed the outside of the pepper, to break up the surface tension on the slick peppers. Then I could roll it in the dry ingredients and it stuck fairly well

Then I rolled it in the batter

Then rolled in the dry ingredients one more time

I brought the peanut oil (you can use other types) up to 375 degrees and placed the peppers in the oil. After a few minutes they turned golden brown. I pulled them out and drained them on newspaper. Brown-paper grocery bags work well also.

These turned out really good. I made a mental note to make these the next time I have a group of people over, or there is a church event or something like that. I also want to try smoking the filled peppers first, then adding the batter and deep-frying. After all "If it's already good, it will probably be better when smoked."