Saturday, January 23, 2016

Crock Pot Sweet Garlic Chicken - Weekend Recipe

I found this recipe in my files (I know it came from Facebook, but sorry to say the origin is lost.)  However, the maker said that there is a baked version of this recipe out there, which I have not tried, but if it is half as good as this chicken was, then it is worth looking for.

This recipe was a whim when I had time and a crock pot and my hubby had given up control of the kitchen.  Those things do not happen that often.

So here is an amazing recipe

Crock Pot Sweet Garlic Chicken 
It broke apart with a fork like butter.

4-6 chicken breasts
1 cup packed light brown sugar 
2/3 cup cider vinegar 
1/4 cup lemon-lime soda
2-3 Tbls. minced garlic
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 tsp. fresh ground ginger (1/2 tsp. powdered)
2 Tbls. corn starch
2 Tbls. water
Red pepper flakes (in celebration of the year of hot peppers)

Spray slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray. Place chicken (frozen, thawed or fresh) inside slow cooker. Mix together brown sugar, vinegar, soda, garlic, soy sauce, and pepper together. Pour over chicken. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4 hours. 

Take chicken pieces out of slow cooker (mine basically fell apart) and pour remaining sauce into saucepan. Place saucepan over high heat. Mix together corn starch and water, pour into saucepan, and mix well. Let sauce come to a boil and boil for 2-3 minutes, or until it starts to thicken and turns into a glaze. Remove from heat and let sit for a minute or two (it will continue to thicken as it cools down). 

Sprinkle red pepper flakes on top if desired. This can be served over rice or noodles, I served it over Thai rice noodles and it was amazing.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

National Popcorn Day

Today is National Popcorn Day!  

Never allowing a proper holiday to go to waste, here is my opportunity to celebrate popcorn which is one of the four major food groups in my family.  A bit of butter and salt is all good popcorn needs, however, if you eat it as often as we do, you need to acknowledge that butter and salt every night is not a good thing.  I crafted some herbal popcorn sprinkles that one can use instead of salt or with salt in moderation.

These may have sprung from research I just did on theme gardens. Maybe I should make a popcorn seasoning garden. That might be fun!

Italian Sprinkle
1 Tbls. Basil
1 Tbls. Marjoram
1 Tbls. Oregano
½ Tbls. Garlic granules
1 tsp. rosemary
2 Tbls. Parmesan Cheese or to taste

Blend together and place in a shaker.  Sprinkle over warm popcorn just out of the popper.

Greek Sprinkle
1 Tbls. lavender
1 Tbls. rosemary
1 Tbls. Greek Oregano
1 Tbls. Garlic, granulated
1 Tbls. Lemon peel or Lemon pepper

These Mediterranean or Greek herbs make a great addition to popcorn with a unique flavor.  Keep in a shaker for quick use.

Mexican Sprinkle
1 Tbls. Chili Powder
1 Tbls. Cumin powder
1 Tbls. Garlic flakes
1 Tbls. Onion granulated
½ Tbls. Parsley
½ Tbls. Thyme
½ Tbls. Oregano
½ Tbls. coriander, ground

Combine and keep in a shaker.  If you like things hot, celebrate the year of capsaisin and add some cayenne or red pepper flakes.

If you enjoy popcorn sprinkles but don't want to craft your own, we have several popcorn shakers available from the Backyard Patch and they make a great gift for the popcorn lover in your family.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Craft Fun with Herbs, #2 - Orange Wreath How Tuesday

This is the second winter craft post, if you would like to see the scented stones we posted first, check out this post.

Make an Dried Orange Wreath

It is Martin Luther King Day, many people and kids are home today and I thought I would continue my craft series with a wreath you can make to brighten up your home and make it smell great too!

Dry the Oranges

First you will need dried oranges.  This is a great warm-the-house project and it smells good too!

Slice 4 to 5 oranges into uniform thin slices.  The thinner the quicker they dry, but too thin and you will see more curling.  Try to keep the slices the same thickness so they dry evenly.

Pat them dry with paper toweling to get as much moisture off as possible.

Place the slices directly on the wire oven racks. No need to use a tray, because you want the air to circulate all around the slices.

Bake the slices in the oven at 200 degrees for a several hours (about 2 and 1/2)  until they are dry to the touch.  Do not over bake them or they will darken to brown.
dried slices cooling on the counter
I found that the slices darkened as they continued to dry after I took them out of the oven. 

Making the Wreath

Once they were dry and cool.  I began top construct the wreath. Here are all the tools I needed:
     a hot or cool glue gun
     a 12 inch wreath base (I used grape vine, but you can use fabric covered Styrofoam or other style
     and a prepared space to work.

Step 1

Cut a few of the orange slices in half.  You need about 10 to 11 halves for a 12 inch wreath.

Step 2 

Glue the halves onto the wreath base around the center circle, making sure the edges touch.

Step 3

Begin adding whole slices to the wreath covering the spots where the haves touch.

 Step 4

Continue adding more slices to fill in the spaces between whole slices until the entire wreath base is covered and cannot be seen.

Step 5 

Hang and enjoy.  I just used a loop of gold ribbon so I could adjust the height against the bedroom door. I wanted it to be non-seasonal, but a seasonal ribbon and a sprig or holly, evergreen or leafy branch would make this perfect for spring or winter holidays.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Winter Reads

Winter is a great time to read books.  There is not garden calling for your attention and it gets dark early and a warm wooly blanket, a cracking fire and a cup of tea and you can spend a couple of hours getting lost in a good read.  So here are a few garden theme authors to try out.

China Bayles Mysteries
by Susan Wittig Albert
Set in the Texas town of Pecan Springs, this herbal shop owner China Bayles, escaping the big city, seems to run across dead bodies quite regularly.  Centered around her Herb shop Thyme and Seasons, this small town mystery series includes recipes and herb lore on various themes.  Recent titles include: Bittersweet and Blood Orange

The Brother Cadfael Mysteries
by Ellis Peter
Brother Cadfael is a fictional twelfth-century Welch monk and herbalist, a brother in the monastery of Saints Peter and Paul in Shrewsbury, England.  Cadfael’s adventures are centered on life in the monastery, where he grows herbs and prepares them for their medicinal and culinary uses – as well as using his skills, knowledge and sleuthing talents to solve murder mysteries.  There is also a great companion book, called Brother Cadfael’s Herb Garden: an Illustrated Companion to Medieval Plants and their uses, compiled by Rob Talbot and Robin Whiteman.

The Louise Eldridge Garden Mysteries
by Ann Ripley
Louise Eldridge is an amateur gardener, garden writer, and garden=show host with a penchant for digging up dead bodies.  Ripley’s fictions are filled with sophisticated, reliable gardening advice, arranged in separate essays, throughout the novels.  A few titles: Death of a Garden Pest, The Perennial Killer, Death of a Political Plant.

The Claire Sharples Botanical Mysteries
by Rebecca Trothenberg
Before her death in 1998, Rebecca Rothenberg wrote three mysteries featuring fictional microbiologist and plant pathologist Claire Sharples: The Dandelion Mysteries, The shy Tulip Murders, and the Bulrush Murders.  Lots of interesting botanical details are woven into the plots.

The Celia Grant Mysteries
by John Sherwood
This 10-book series (which ended in the 1990s) featured 50 something British widow and horticulturist Celia Grant.  A few titles: Menacing Groves, Bouquet of Thorns, Sunflower Plot,

One that I am currently enjoying that proves you do not need to be an enthusiast to enjoy a series is the Cat and Quilting Mysteries 
by Leanne Sweeney

Her fictional character a widow, named Jillian Hart lives in Mercy South Carolina and stumbles into mysteries related to cats.  A quilter she is also a cat lover so the cat tidbits she shares are fun and interesting.  Now I do not quilt, I can barely sew, but that does not diminish my enjoyment of these cozy mysteries. The most recent in the Cats in Trouble Series is The Cat, The Sneak and the Secret. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Herb of the Year - Hot Peppers, Number 1 - Rocoto Pepper

I am launching my Herb of the Week in 2016 posts with the Herb of the Year, which is a genus Capsicum (that is hot peppers.) I will do 12 posts this year on the Herb of the Year, as I choose my favorite hot peppers, from mild to hurtful and post them on the first Wednesday of the month for the Herb of the Week.

Image taken by JoeCarrasco

I am going to start with a hotter pepper, one used to make hot sauces – The Rocoto Pepper (Capsicum pubescens.)

While Rocoto peppers look somewhat like bell peppers, it can be dangerous to get the two mixed up. While bell peppers aren't hot at all, the Rocoto pepper is extremely hot. Between 100,000 and 250,000 on the Scoville Heat Index*, this pepper is about the size of a bell pepper but is rounder and is typically only red or green. Some people use this pepper to make very spicy sauces.

Even in the notorious world of chile peppers, the rocoto chile (Capsicum pubescens) stands out. The pepper comes with black seeds, hairy leaves and a shape that resembles a small apple or pear. The flesh is relatively thick, like a bell pepper. Known in Peru  as rukutu, ruqutu (in Quechua, hispanicized rocoto) and in Mexico known as the "Manzano" pepper which means "apple" for its apple-shaped fruit. This species is found primarily in Central and South America, and is known only in cultivation.

The species name, pubescens, means hairy, which refers to the hairy leaves of this pepper. The hairiness of the leaves, along with the black seeds, distinguish this species from others. As they reach a relatively advanced age and the roots lignify quickly, sometimes they are called tree chili. Of all the domesticated species of peppers, this is the least widespread and systematically furthest away from all others. It is reproductively isolated from other species of the genus Capsicum. A very notable feature of this species is its ability to withstand cooler temperatures than other cultivated pepper plants, although it cannot withstand frost.

Growing Peppers

Any pepper plant out of the ordinary will probably not be available from your local nursary, meaning you will need to grow them from seed.  Most of us must start our own plants indoors about 8-10 weeks before transplanting, which should be done 2-3 weeks after the expected last frost. Most pepper seeds sprout in about a week at a temperature of 70-80 degrees F, but germination can be spotty depending on variety. Hot peppers can be very finicky.

Plant peppers in a bed that receives full sun. Provide a sandy loam soil that drains well and contains plenty of organic matter. Depending on the size of the pepper varieties planted, spacing should be 12-18 inches apart. Peppers can double as ornamentals, so tuck some into flowerbeds and borders. Most sweet peppers mature in 60-90 days; hot peppers can take up to 150 days. Keep in mind, however, that the number of days to maturity stated on the seed packet refers to the days after transplanting until the plant produces a full-sized fruit. You must add 8-10 weeks for the time between sowing and transplanting which means most of us will be starting pepper plants indoors in January or February!  I will talk about how to start them from seed in my February Pepper post.

If you’re looking for seeds in your area be sure to check under other names including: Manzano, Locoto, Rocoto, and Ricota.

Hotish Pepper Sauce

This version is only slightly hot, but if you really want that fire use all of the rocoto pepper.
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 red, orange or yellow Rocoto pepper, minced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

In a saucepan over low heat, warm the oil. Add the onion, cumin, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and sauté until the onions start to caramelize, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and rocoto pepper and sauté for 2 minutes more. Add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, vinegar, and water. Mix well, and simmer until it starts to thicken, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer all the ingredients to an upright blender, add the white pepper, and puree until smooth. Season with additional salt to taste. Store in a tightly sealed jar in the ­refrigerator up to 4 months.

*Scoville Heat Index - The Scoville scale is a measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers or other spicy foods as reported in Scoville heat units (SHU), a function of capsaicin concentration. The scale is named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville.  His method, devised in 1912, is known as the Scoville Organoleptic Test.

Unlike methods based on high-performance liquid chromatography, the Scoville scale is an empirical measurement dependent on the capsaicin sensitivity of testers and so is not a precise or accurate method to measure capsaicinoid concentration.

In Scoville's method, an exact weight of dried pepper is dissolved in alcohol to extract the heat components (capsinoids), then diluted in a solution of sugar water. Increasing concentrations of the extracted capsinoids are given to a panel of five trained tasters, until a majority (at least three) can no longer detect the heat in a dilution. The heat level is based on this dilution, rated in multiples of 100 SHU.

Bell pepper - 0 units
            Banana peppers and Pepperocini – 100 to 900 units
Pablano and Jalapeno peppers - 1,000 to 4,000 units
Serrano peppers – 10,000 to 23,000 units
Habanero peppers – 100,000 to 350,000 units
Ghost peppers – 850,000 to 1,299,999 units

·        Charles M. Rick: "Capsicum pubescens, a little-known pungent pepper from Latin America". In: Missouri Botanical Garden Bulletin, Band 36, 1950. pp. 36–42.
·         Dave DeWitt and Paul W. Bosland (2009). The Complete Chile Pepper Book: A Gardener's Guide to Choosing, Growing, Preserving, and Cooking. Timber Press.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Craft Fun with Herbs, series #1

My friend Tina Sams of The Essential Herbal Magazine started posting a craft a day in November 2015.  It was stopped when she got sick, but even the few posts that she did made me long to do some crafts in the winter time.

So I am picking up (sort of) where Tina left off with craft ideas in the month of January and February.  Get your fingers into the scents and feel of herbs and put aside the winter blahs.  And thank Tina by subscribing to one of the only remaining print herb magazines left!

I will also be launching my Herb of the year posts Wednesday, January 6, with my first post on the herb of the year, Capsasin genus (that is hot peppers) and I will do 12 posts this year as I choose my favorite hot peppers, from mild to hurtful.

Here is my first craft idea, first shared in my advent blog several years ago.  It is perfect to make in the winter because they dry more easily with the lowered humidity in the house while the heat is on.

Scented Stones

1 ½ cups white flour
 ¼ cup salt
 ¼ tsp cornstarch
 2/3 cup distilled water, brought to a boil
1 Tbls essential oil or or Fragrance oil
2 Tbls dried herbs, if desired

The main thing to remember with these is they must be very well dried before using and not made too large or they could develop molds. In humid weather I add potassium sorbate as a preservative.

Combine the materials to create a dough much like play-dough.  Roll the dough the size of large marbles but flatten them so they dry more easily.  Adding the dried herbs will give the dough a more "rock-like" coloring. 

Once dry place them in a pretty dish along with colorful complimentary herbs, buds or petals.

Here is another recipe, slightly easier and more colorful, but without herbs.

Air Freshening Stones
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon Essential oil
2/3 cup boiling water
Food coloring

Combine salt and flour, then add water, essential oil and food coloring.  Mix together then shape into little balls and leave to dry. As the rocks dry out they will remain soft in the center, this will not affect the scent or life of the rocks.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Oatmeal & Cinnamon Bath Soak - Bath Blend of the Month

Soothing oatmeal, milk and cornstarch will help with dry windblown skin.  Cinnamon is naturally warming.  Together this blend will soothe and warm and is perfect for winter weather.

Oatmeal & Cinnamon

1 1/2 cups powdered milk
3/4 cup baking soda
3/4 cup oatmeal (finely grind it first)
3 Tbls cornstarch
2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp cinnamon

Before getting started, make sure that any herbs or oatmeal are first ground finely (use a food processor if possible). This helps keep things clump free.  Then blend the ingredients together and keep in a jar with a tight fitting lid.  Use a muslin bag or square of cotton cloth to hold the herbs for use in the bath.

To USE:  Place ½ cup of mixture in a cloth bath and suspend in the tub while filling with water.  Use the bag to scrub body while soaking.  Discard herbs after bath.
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