Thursday, July 30, 2009

Green kitchen - another way to spend your green

Now that they quit the punk station on Sirius, the only station I listen to is Martha Stewart Radio and NPR, which probably means I am lame in more ways than I can count. Or maybe it's not me that's lame - I am really getting tired of them playing Tom Petty on every channel they can. But my hatred of Tom Petty will have to wait for another post, because I have to write about green kitchen. The other day on MS Radio, they had a guest named Kate Keyhoe on that was pimping her new book, which was something about cooking green, so I had to give it a listen.

I recently turned the volume down to zero because "Last Dance With Mary Jane" was just on. If my car radio had a knob that went less than zero, like Spinal Tap's amp gain that went to eleven, that would really make me a happy woman. That way I could make sure no Tom Petty ever hit the old ear tympani. But this kind of kitchen talk piqued my interest, so, like Lynyrd Skynyrd reminds us often on many Sirius channels, I "turned it up". I figured for sure the gal was going to tell me to start cooking in a solar oven, which is about the most preposterous thing I could ever think of to do, unless I was backpacking in Nepal or something and trying to rehydrate some dehydrated lentils. Evidently it's only $289 to energy independence! (+ shipping!)

Thankfully, she didn't suggest the solar oven, but some of the stuff she was saying just didn't add up. She called the oven the "Humvee of the kitchen". I knew she and I were going to have math issues. I'm an engineer, math is my life. Is the oven really the Humvee of the kitchen? Time to sharpen the pencils, ladies and gut is telling me that the "Humvee of the kitchen" has got to be the fridge, but that's probably not fair to the old icebox. The biggest energy use in your house is for heating and cooling, which accounts for 44% of all energy consumption. So instead of worrying about energy use in your kitchen, your time would be better spent thinking about insulation and better windows.

The big energy user in your kitchen is indeed the fridge. Per the California Energy Commission, refrigerators and freezers consume about a sixth of all electricity in a typical American home - using more electricity than any other single household appliance.

According to the US Department of Energy, here is how a typical household’s energy consumption breaks down:

Heating and cooling 44%
Water heating 13%
Lighting 12%
Refrigeration 8%
Home electronics 6%
Laundry appliances 5%
Kitchen appliances 4%
Other uses 8%

Okay, so why pick on your poor oven? The author suggests using a toaster oven instead, which would require me buying something, in addition to me buying her book. The fact of the matter is that a toaster oven costs more to use, too. Check out this chart. It would cost me more money in energy costs to use a toaster oven instead of firing up my entire gas oven. If you are really worried about that, how about starting an "oven pool"? Like a carpool, you could pop another dish in the oven "for the ride" while you are baking something. Or when you are baking something, always make two. I try to do this anyway, so I can freeze one for later.

The bottom line? I'm not going to feel guilty for baking, I have a gas oven. Even if you have an electric oven, don't fret. Remember, the reason why we have "the grid" is because being on one is always going to be more efficient than than being "off the grid". (thank you Thomas Edison, inventor of the grid). If it makes you feel better about it, start calling the grid "socialized energy". Because that's exactly what it is. It's energy for everyone - both the rich and the poor. Everyone gets it relatively cheap. Learn to love the grid! And get some better insulation and windows, please! I know it isn't as fun as cooking, but it would go a long way toward a more earth friendly existence.

FYI, it would take me over 5 years of baking something every day in a $289 solar oven, just to break even. And I live in Michigan, with it's share of cloudy days and 6 months of nonsummer, so make that 10 years. I won't be buying a solar oven anytime soon, or a toaster oven, either. But I might try to fashion a solar oven out of a box or something one day, just for fun. I'm wondering if a cake baked in a solar oven will end up tasting like a cake out of an Easy Bake oven? An experiment is on order....

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Natural pectin: Making jams without using boxed pectin

Pectin is a very important part of making jams. It's not often that I'd make some without adding pectin. Here's a list of high pectin fruits that have enough pectin in them to make jam without adding pectin:

Apples, sour
Blackberries, sour
Grapes (Eastern Concord)
Plums (not Italian)

Anything else needs pectin to be added. I often hear (erroneously) that strawberries are a high pectin fruit and adding pectin isn't needed. NOT SO! If you have under ripe berries you might be able to get away with it, but under ripe berries taste bad. Under ripe fruit often has higher pectin content than it's ripe version. When I preserve jam made of these fruits, I always add pectin:

Grapes (Western Concord)
Plums (Italian)

I got interested in making jams and jellies without using commercially prepared pectin for a number of reasons. First of all, I am thrifty and it can cost well over $2 per box. Secondly, I just wanted something a little more natural. A pectin factory receives apple residue or citrus peels from juice factories. It's mixed with acid to get all the pectin out of the sludge. The solids are separated and then alcohol is added to precipitate the pectin out of solution. Ammonia is added to some kinds to make it work without added sugar normally needed (those expensive brands of pectin that allow you to make jams and jellies without adding sugar), and then it's mixed with dextrose or sugar to stabilize it. The good news is you can make all the pectin you need with apples and lemons.

Last year, I wrote about how to make your own pectin. Check it out! Happy canning!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Your garbage needed to feed the poor

Yes, you read that right! We're collecting wrappers and packages from products that will be "upcycled" – made into other products like this nifty tote bag sold at Target. Can you help? All you have to do is save wrappers for me. For each wrapper collected, we will get $.02 to support projects at St. Joe's in Dexter to feed the hungry, and we are trying to collect as many as we can by Oct. 1, 2009.

· Drink pouches – such as Capri Sun, Kool Aid, etc. Can be any name brand
· Snack bar wrappers – such energy, granola, nutrition, cereal and protein bars – that are plastic with a silver lining. Can be any name brand.
· Cookie package wrappers – any name brand, such as Chips Ahoy, Oreo, etc. Any name brand accepted.
· Candy wrappers – any brand, any size
· Any Kashi product package - wrappers, boxes, etc,. Anything made by Kashi!
· Bear Naked brand granola bags - only the Bear Naked brand, please
· Nabisco brand Toasted Chips bags – such as Ritz, Wheat Thins Toasted chips. Nabisco brand only, please

Email me at momskitchen at comcast dot net and I can add you to my list of wrapper collectors. When it gets close to Oct. 1, we'll arrange for a pickp of your wrappers. Don't live in Ann Arbor? Or even Michigan for that matter? Don't worry - we'll find a way to get them from you. I've been fascinated about the idea of six degrees of separation ever since I read this essay by Malcom Gladwell and the experiment by Harvard social psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s that came up with the idea of 6 degrees of separation, long before the Kevin Bacon game.

Thank you for helping feed the hungry and saving our earth.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Capuchin Soup Kitchen fundraiser

I am really thrilled to be a part of Tammy's Tasting Supper Club dinner on Saturday, July 25th in Ann Arbor. Tammy Coxen and will be a benefit for Earthworks Urban Farm and the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit, and their Earthworks Urban Farm project. Currently, the majority of their produce is incorporated in the meals at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen and they are planning to install a commercial hoop house (similar to a greenhouse but uses only heat from the sun) to provide greens for the soup kitchen and for marketing to the public. If you'd like to reserve one of the remaining spaces at the July 25 dinner, please email me at momskitchen at comcast dot net ASAP with your food restrictions and preferences. We're happy to accommodate a variety of food restrictions, such as gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian.

Tammy will be offering at minimum 8-course tasting menu, designed to highlight
seasonal and local foodstuffs. The dinners are designed to be wine-friendly, but are BYOB (or better yet, bring some to share). A donation of $50 is requested per person. Tammy had a wonderful dinner last month to support the Pittsfield Grange's group Preserving Traditions.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pickled Green Beans - do it for Elvis

I am doing a canning demo tomorrow (Saturday, July 11) at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market from 8 - 10 am. I'll be making pickled green beans - if you are new to canning, pickled green beans are ridiculously easy and a great way to learn how to can. If you can boil water, you can make 'em! They go great on an antipasto tray or in a martini or Bloody Mary. You can make them slightly spiced or smokin' hot (I like mine really spicy).

If you are on a budget, green beans are cheap at the farmer's market, even cheaper when you pick them yourself. Green beans are probably the easiest U pick item on the planet to pick for yourself. I can still remember the date Elvis died when I was a kid, because I was picking green beans on that day. I did it when I was in 6th grade! Whenever I pickle green beans now, I think of "the King". Actually, in 6th grade, I have to admit that I much preferred the Bay City Rollers to Elvis the Pelvis. I have never canned anything in their honor, though.

Imagine yourself at your favorite December celebration (Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Yule, Festivus, etc.) and you opening up a jar of these beauties that you made yourself! Your friends and family will be amazed! When you open that jar, you will be transported back to that day in July when you put them up. Or maybe you will just think of Elvis Presley, and that's okay too.
You don't need any special equipment except for 4 pint canning jars and some lids and lid rings.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Canning on the 4th of July

What could be more patriotic? Normally, we are out of town on the 4th, but we came back from camping early because the weather was so crummy. Despite the fact that our neighborhood's fireworks were so spectacular, I was in a mild funk yesterday. My mother always said if you were in a foul mood, hard work is the remedy, so I headed out to the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market yesterday morning just to see what I might preserve. The market wasn't very crowded, and I was thrilled to see that both tart cherries and blueberries were there, because I wanted to try to make some liqueuers with them. Pickles were on my mind, though. I had just gotten the book The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich.

Ever since I have seen McClure's Pickles for sale at the market and grocery store for a whopping $8 per jar (which might be okay for NYC but this is Michigan, and people are out of work) I've been preaching the gospel of of making pickles at home. Now, don't get me wrong - McClure's pickles are great pickles. I also love their logo and wish they'd make T shirts with it on them - I'd buy one. But pickles are pretty cheap to make - if I tried hard enough, I bet I could make them for 25 cents a quart - u pick cukes later in the season are practically free. But it's early in the season, so I paid $10 for about 8 lbs of pickling cukes (which is a lot of money for pickles). Dill heads were hard to come by at the market this week - I think it's because no one but me seems to make pickles anymore. I found one gentleman that had some and I bought all he had. I begged Duke Donahee to bring some dill next week for me. Meijer carries it later in the season if you are looking for it.

Doing a little internet reading, I have found that the NY McClure is also a disciple of the Joy of Pickling. I am determined to make a McClure like pickle - so I tried making a fresh pickle out of the JOP book. Normally, I make brined dill pickles, but the McClure pickle isn't that. Linda Ziedrich suggests that you add grape leaves to the jar for a crisper pickle - there isn't grape leaves in the McClure pickle (they are probably adding alum instead) but since I am blessed with lots of wild grape vines in my yard, I decided to do it. The pickles take a month to cure in the jar. I'll let you know how they turn out. They were ridiculously easy to make - and by my estimates, cost me about $2 per jar to make, even though I wasn't economizing.

Give the McClure pickles a try and see if you like them. Sometimes, they are for sale at the AAFM, and they also carry them at Busch's. They are very good pickles! And making pickles yesterday got me out of my funk. I'll let you know if I succeeded and share the recipe in August after I taste them.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Muskallonge Lake Camping Trip

We have just returned from our 4th of July camping trip 4 days early because of the rain and cold. The forecast for the U.P. for the rest of the week was rainy and cold, so we decided to come back home where the weather might be better. It's raining here in Ann Arbor, but it's about 20 degrees warmer at least, and the forecast is for sunny skies the rest of the week.

Weather notwithstanding, I totally enjoyed our camp site at Muskallonge Lake State Park. It wasn't crowded at all, and it is on Muskallonge Lake, noted for it's good fishing, and within walking distance of Lake Superior and great agate hunting. It was a lovely park, and next time, I would really like to reserve site 134 or 145. We had sitte 29, and it was great, too. This camp never seems to be full. It's located next to the Deer Park Lodge - I hope they don't mind that I borrowed one of their pictures for my blog. I don't have any great pictures except rainy ones. They run a great camp store with fishing equipment and licenses, camping equipment, etc. If you are not a camper, rent one of their cabins on Muskallonge Lake. Deer Park is located between Whitefish Point and Grand Marais in the U.P., near the Two Hearted River, made famous by Ernest Hemingway. It is in the middle of nowhere, which is a great place to be, except when it's rainy and cold for days on end. So we came home early....but we will go back for sure.

One rainy camp night dinner, I made flank steak. This is my friend Ann's really good recipe for marinated flank steak called "Mom's Tasty Flank Steak" which was her mother-in-law's recipe. It works out great in a Dutch oven while camping, but at home you could make it under the broiler.

Mom's Tasty Flank Steak

1/2 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. lemon juice - bottled is fine for this recipe
1 T. thyme
3 green onions, sliced
A big flank steak

Place marinade ingredients in a plastic bag, and add steak. Freeze in marinade, and pack it in your cooler. (if you are making this at home, marinate it in the fridge overnight) At camp, put the beef and marinade in a 12 inch dutch oven with 10 coals on the bottom, 14 on top for about 30 minutes. (at home, broil it in a pan with the marinade until desired doneness) Serve with noodles. Yummy!