I want to eat, not mow

First off, let me start this post by saying that I like food. I mean, I really enjoy fresh, good food. To that end more of the side yard this year has disappeared and the garden there continues to grow. Since my last post I have continued to dig up the grass and now have several potatoes growing. The green beans are starting to come up, and we’ve got asparagus planted. The sad thing about the asparagus is that it takes a few years to really get going. I thought I’d share a few photos of the changes that have happened.

 

Young garden plants

Young garden plants

In the above photo several plants are starting to come along. The black tubing is drip irrigation I have laid down in the garden. The drip irrigation makes it much easier to water all the plants and can use less water. This year I am using sprinklers for most of the garden, but as the garden continues to mature and I figure out what I want to do I’ll transition over to more and more water emitters.

 

Lettuce and Swiss Chard growing in a garden box

Lettuce and Swiss Chard growing in a garden box

The garden box from last year full of lettuce and swiss chard.

Broccoli growing in a garden box

Broccoli growing in a garden box

This is the first attempt made at growing broccoli. So far there are heads of broccoli growing on almost every plant.

Fenced in garden

Fenced in garden

A larger view of the garden. It doesn’t seem very full yet, but give it a month or two and I’ll start having trouble finding a place to walk.

Herbs growing

Herbs growing

In the back yard we have two cut down wine barrels growing various herbs. The brown earth box in the photo contains seeds for several kinds of flowers that honeybees like. The flowers came from Glorybee in Eugene, Oregon.

Potatoes Sprouting in dirt

Potatoes Sprouting

Since I am from Idaho, I have to include one of the things we’re famous for. Potatoes! Yes, that is two different kinds of potatoes I’m trying to grow this year. The last two years I’ve tried using a potato bag with with mixed results. This year these spuds are looking much better!

Have any fun plants you’re trying out this year for the first time? Got any good gardening tips? Leave a comment below!

Happy Gardening!

– Jason Snell

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

My wife and I tried something new the other day. We made homemade mozzarella cheese. My wife had received a cheese making kit as a gift and we thought it would fun to try our hand at one of the easiest cheeses to make. If you want to try your own hand at making mozzarella you’ll need the following items:

  • 1 Gallon of milk (make sure the milk is not ultra pasteurized)
  • Large stainless steel pot
  • Rennet tablet
  • Citric Acid
  • Strainer
  • Stainless steel bowl
  • Cheese salt
  • Thermometer
  • Ice water
  • Long knife
  • Slotted spoon

Note: Aluminum will react in the cheese making process. Do not use any pots or pans made of aluminum or any aluminum utensils.

One of the things about making cheese is that the base ingredient, the milk, must not be ultra pasteurized. Doing so destroys the ability of the milk to make a curd. Even organic milk may be ultra pasteurized so be sure check the container.

Another important aspect of cheese making is temperature control. Overheating the milk will again make it impossible for the curd to form.

To start off get everything ready. Once the cheese making is at certain steps you won’t have time to get the next step ready. Add 1 1/2 tsp of citric acid to 1 1/4 cup of chlorine-free water, (the chlorine can cause issues with the rennet).

Citric acid and 1 1/4 cup of water

Citric acid and 1 1/4 cup of water

Add 1/4 or 1/2 rennet tablet to 1/4 cup of chlorine free water.

While the rennet tablet is dissolving add the gallon of milk to the stainless steel pot. This part takes some patience, but the milk needs to be heated to 90°F while being stirred.

Heating milk to 90°F

Heating milk to 90°F

After 90°F is reached remove the pot from the burner and add the rennet solution, carefully stirring it in for about 30 seconds. Cover the pot and walk away for five minutes. You may be tempted to peak but this is the part that requires patience.

 

Five minutes have now gone by and it’s time to take a look at what has happened. At this point the curd should have started to form. The liquid at the bottom is the whey with the curd floating on top. Here is where the long knife comes into play.

Curd floating on top of whey

Curd floating on top of whey

The curd needs to be cut into pieces. Starting with one side cut the curd in a straight light and continue parallel to that line. Now cut in the other direction. The result should make the curd look like small squares or diamonds about 1 or 2  inches in size.

Curd that has been cut

Curd that has been cut

Now that the curd has been cut more of the whey can separate out. Place the pot back on to the burner and slowly bring the heat up to 110°F. Again, take it slow and careful. Adding too much heat can quickly ruin your cheese. Slowly stir the curds with your slotted spoon.

The curd will start to melt as it approaches 110°F and start to form a goopy mass.

Melting curd

Melting curd

Melting curd

Melting curd

At the 110°F mark again remove the pot from heat and stir 2 to 6 minutes. The longer stirring time will result in a more firm cheese. When you feel you’ve stirred the curd and whey long enough drain the mixture in a colander set over a bowl, (you weren’t just going to pour that whey down the sink where you?).

 

Draining curds from whey

Draining curds from whey

Whey left over from making cheese

Whey left over from making cheese

Drained curds

Drained curds

The curd is getting closer to the actual cheese stage. We now have to heat the curd up to 135°F. This allows the proteins in the curd to stretch and form the cheese we recognize as mozzarella. You can either heat a bot of water up to about 185°F or add the whey back to the pot and heat that up.

Draining more whey from the curds

Draining more whey from the curds

Add the curd back liquid and take a spoon and fold the curd together. There should be a large clump of the cheese at this point. Move the curd back and forth and attempt to stretch them. The curd will start becoming elastic as it heats to 135°F. At this point remove it from the hot liquid and add in the salt, or any other herbs or flavorings you want in your mozzarella.

Almost mozzarella!

Almost mozzarella!

The fun parts starts now. Stretch the cheese like it was taffy. This will make it nice and shiny and smooth.

Stretching the cheese out

Stretching the cheese out

Stretching the cheese out

Stretching the cheese out

The stretching only takes a minute or two and its ready to be cooled. Before you cool it down though have fun and design the final shape of your cheese. Braid it, make it into a ball, slice it into cheese sticks for snacking later on, or even make a long cheese rope.

Finally mozzarella cheese!

Finally mozzarella cheese!

Immerse the cheese in cool water for about 5 minutes and then in ice water for 15 minutes. This will cool the cheese and let it keep the shape you

Cooling the cheese

Cooling the cheese

Ice water ready for the final step

Ice water ready for the final step

Now that the cheese is ready to eat the only thing left is to make a caprese salad.

Caprese salad with homemade mozzarella cheese

Caprese salad with homemade mozzarella cheese

There you have it. Easy to make homemade mozzarella cheese. Simple, easy, and delicious!

– Jason Snell

Tattler Reusable Canning Lids Review

One of the downsides to canning is only being able to use a lid once before having to throw it away. I know some people say they’ll use a lid twice before disposing of it, but I’m a bit more cautious and would rather not risk a bad seal. Well a company by the name of Tattler has come out with a reusable lid. The company also has different colors for their lids, and will have special runs of a particular color at times.

canned hatch chili pepper salsa with tattler lids

Side by side comparison of disposable lid and two colors of Tattler Lids

A big complaint of the conventional metal lids was that the rubber inside contained BPA, a chemical known to cause hormone issues with people who consume it. The Tattler lids are BPA free. Recently most of the companies manufacturing the metal bands have changed to a BPA free formula as well.

roasted hatch chili pepper salsa using disposable and tattler lids

Salsa using a red Tattler reusable lid

Since my wife and I tend to give away some of the jars we can we usually do a mixture of disposable and reusable lids. After using the Tattler lids several hundred times I can say I love them… and hate them at the same time.

canned hatch chili pepper salsa

Canning with a mixture of reusable and disposable lids.

Let me explain the previous statement. When the lids work they work great. I get an awesome seal and I am entirely confident in the safety of the food in the jar. However, the lids can be a bit tricky. Since the process involves a rubber gasket and a plastic lid you cannot fully tighten down on the lid as you would with a metal lid. The reason being is pressure. The internal pressure cannot vent during the boiling process in the canner if the lid is too tight. It will eventually push out, and when that happens often some of the food comes out with it. This can prevent a good seal later when it’s cooling due to food getting between the gasket and lid

To ensure the best possible seal I’ve learned to place the jar on the counter with the gasket and lid inside the metal band. I place the band on the jar and turn the band with one hand as tight as it’ll go until the jar starts to spin on the counter. Basically finger tight. I’ve had really good luck with this process.

The jars are processed the same way as the disposable lids. There is not time difference for how long they have to boil. I would recommend at the end of the boiling period to remove the lid and turn the heat off on the canner and let the jars sit for five minutes before removing them.

canning hatch chili pepper salsa using tattler lids

Tattler lids in a water bath canner.

Once the jars have been removed place them on the counter. I like to use an old kitchen towel to make sure the hot jars don’t damage my counter. Take a couple of kitchen towels, oven pads, or silicon oven mitts and tighten the full on the jars. This step is important to ensure the jars full seal.

canning ketchup

Using reusable Tattler lids

With all the above being said I do have a jar occasionally fail to seal out of a batch of jars. Normally I don’t mind as I like trying out whatever I’m making anyway. Another thing to consider is even though the lids are more expensive, after using them three or four times you’ll have broken even if you had been buying disposable lids. After that you have a 100% cost savings in lids.

Tattler has since updated their lid design and now sell an E-Z seal lid which on their website they say you can treat the same as the disposable lids. Once I’ve acquired and used some of the E-Z seal lids I’ll be sure to update this post.

Until then happy canning!

– Jason Snell