Measurements

Measurements vary from country to country Many places not only use metric but weigh the ingredients rather than measuring by volume. The good news is that many recipes are forgiving enough that the difference won’t matter, or can be corrected by adding a little flour or liquid until it feels right (a phrase I normally despise, but there we are).

You can find conversion sites online, and there are also apps for tablets and, probably, phones. The trick is figuring out whether that “cup” the recipe calls for is US or metric, that tablespoon US or imperial. If the recipe calls for you to weigh things you’re used to measuring, like flour or sugar, it’s probably European of some kind (get a good-quality kitchen scale that does grams as well as ounces if you’re going to try many of these). The publisher’s location is also a good guide, if you can determine that, but watch out for books that are written in the UK (or Australia) and published in the US without editing.

By the way, what Americans call “corn starch” the English call “corn flour.” I’ll be posting a sort of mini-glossary later this winter, but thought you might want to know about that detail now, if you’re playing with international recipes.

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Hot peppers, chili powder, and a note on squirrels

Small pointy hot peppers tend to be hotter than large round ones. The little ones are hotter because they have more ribs and seeds, which have more capsaicin.

Chili powder is made of ground mild and hot chiles, oregano, and cumin. Some kinds also contain garlic and salt.

If your chili powder is getting old and needs to be replaced, it doesn’t have to go to waste. Sprinkle it generously over bulbs when you plant them to keep the squirrels out of them, or on top of the soil to protect established bulbs.

By the way, if you like to feed your neighborhood squirrels, you can reduce the amount of digging they do by cracking the nuts you put out for them (and not putting out very many at a time). They bury nuts to soften the shell; if they can get into the nut right away (and aren’t full) they’ll go ahead and eat it.

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Egg trivia

Officially, there is no difference between white and brown eggs, or between organic and conventional ones. However, many people claim to prefer the taste of brown eggs and I know several people who get a stomachache from eating too many conventional ones.

That said, freshness and feed do make significant differences and are difficult to track. These may be the factors that are really in play when people find differences between types of eggs. Free-range and pastured hens definitely have better diets and produce better eggs.

One way to test an egg for freshness by floating it in cold water. Fresh eggs will float on their sides while older eggs will “stand on end” in the water. Even better, crack open the egg and check the white. An old egg, while still safe to eat and legally “fresh,” will have a watery yolk that runs all over the pan; it takes a truly fresh egg to make the classic round, thick-edged fried egg.

To freeze eggs, break them into a container. Pierce the yolks with a fork and gently mix the whites and yolks, creating as little foam as possible — foam will dry out the eggs. Whites frozen by themselves do just fine, but separated yolks will do best if you add a bit of salt to those intended for cooking and a bit of sugar to those that will go into baked goods.

Note: a “no antibiotics” label on a package of chicken meat is of dubious value. Years ago, they experimented with antibiotics as a way to increase the weight of chickens, but found that it was not cost-effective — the drugs cost more than the additional weight could earn. Now, chickens seldom get antibiotics unless they need them.

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Dry milk

If you only use small amounts of milk, dry milk can be the way to go. Most milk powders mix in the same ratio, one part powder to four parts water. That means you can mix up a cup of milk using 1/4 cup of dry milk, or my favorite amount, a tablespoon of powder to 1/4 cup of water. Mix that up first, drop in three eggs and cinnamon to taste, and make about 6 slices of French toast (or, as it was called in medieval England, pan purdy).

As a side note, if you do have to drink the stuff, mix it up the day before and let it sit in the fridge overnight to dissolve more thoroughly.

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“Tired” greens

You can rehydrate droopy greens by letting them sit in cold water for an hour or three. Be sure to drain them well before putting them away, though. This can work for certain other vegetables as well.

Many leaf vegetables such as lettuce store longer if there’s a little bit of water at the bottom of the bag so the stem(s) can “drink,” but the leaves must be kept clear of it or they’ll rot. In some cases, like with asparagus, this is best achieved by putting them in a rigid container with a little water in the bottom, vase-style. Unless you’re going to use it right away, though, drop a plastic bag over the whole thing to keep the moisture in.

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Got your CSA yet?

There are only a couple of weeks left to order your CSA from Stoney Plains Farm and pick up your lovely box of goodies here at the Tumwater Market every week this summer! They have shares sized for 1-2 people and for families of 3-4. If that sounds like too much, or if you just want to try it out a little before jumping in, I can personally recommend pairing up with a co-worker or neighbor and splitting a share. You can make someone else take the yucky stuff (although you can trade out something you really don’t like, and anyway, I think half the fun of a CSA is trying the new stuff) and trade recipes, advice, and ideas.

Did I hear someone ask “What’s a CSA?” Think of it as a sort of farm subscription. For a payment in the spring, members get a weekly box of the farm’s best produce all summer long. Sometimes the box even includes special treats not available to ordinary customers, or first chance at high-demand add-on items (for instance, when Kirsop Farm first started experimenting with pastured chickens, their CSA members had first crack at them). CSA members end up paying less than the conventional customers, too, and if it turns out to be a bad year for some crop, guess who eats first.

For those of you who like to take the back off and poke at the gears: CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and, technically, means the whole program; but most people use it to mean their share: “We have a CSA” or even “I’m going to pick up my CSA now.” Community Supported Agriculture is a system that lets the community — that’s us — support a local farm by sharing some of the expense and risk of farming. In the conventional system, the farmer pretty much has to get a loan every spring to buy seeds, fertilizer, worker hours, and so on until the harvest is big enough to generate income and let the farmer start paying off that loan, and the interest on that loan. Great deal for the banks, right? In a CSA program, community members cover those expenses and get their interest in edible form. It takes the whole cut-out-the-middleman concept to a delicious new new level!

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Cream of Mushroom Soup

Another recipe from gourmet Kelly, less complex this time. She tells me that despite the milk in it, this soup can be frozen as long as you squish or shake it every 15 minutes while thawing to keep the milk from separating.

1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup green onions, chopped
2 cups mushrooms, chopped
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup half & half
1 cup chicken broth
salt & pepper to taste

Cook green onions in butter in a large skillet or stock pot over low heat for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook another 2 minutes. Stir in flour and continue to cook 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat; whisk in chicken broth and half & half. Continue whisking until smooth. Bring to a boil over moderate heat and simmer, stirring, for 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve.

quantities for 34 cups:
3 cups butter
9 cups green onions, chopped
24 cups mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup flour
12 cups half & half
12 cups chicken broth
salt & pepper to taste

Freeze in 2-cup packages; mix frequently while thawing.

Adapted from cdkitchen.com

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.