Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Results: Amaretto Cherries

Remember this summer when I put up a quart of amaretto cherries?  It was just a quart of organic tart pie cherries pitted and stuffed in a jar, then filled with amaretto and put in the fridge for six months.

Well, in the interest of complete journalistic follow-up, I had a glass of the cordial the other night, and it was out-of-this-world good!  The cherry flavor really came through, and the deep complexity of the amaretto was preserved as well.

The cherries themselves were quite good as well.  They took up a good bit of the alcohol, so they really packed a punch.  These would be so good on ice cream or on top of any other dessert, but you'll only want to have a few at a time!

I think this is a great way of preserving organic cherries if you can get them in season.  Obviously, you don't want to use conventionally-grown cherries, because there is absolutely no sense in using expensive sipping amaretto to leach pesticides and/or herbicides out of the fruit for you to drink!  But, if you have a good supply, I'd say this is a fine thing to put up for the winter, when you will really appreciate the results.

The Analysis

Fast:  Pitting the cherries takes a while, but putting them in a jar and filling it with amaretto does not.

Cheap:  Using the expensive alcohol means that this is far from an economical way to preserve cherries, but, really, you are getting a custom-made, gourmet cordial in the process, so it may work out in your favor.

Good:  Definitely the best thing to come from my preserving efforts of 2015!
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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Quick Mac n Cheese

Anybody who believes that those of us who follow sustainable living practices never have junk cravings is completely wrong.

Last week, I had a craving; it was for boxed mac n cheese.  Look, it's cold outside, and I grew up on boxed mac.  It is the ultimate comfort food for me.

But, once I'd indulged in a box, I remembered that I really care more about my health than I do some preservative- and GMO-laden processed food, so I set out to create a substitute that was still comfort food but was made with better ingredients.

This version of mac n cheese is a bit more agressively-flavored, thanks to the use of sharp cheddar and dried mustard; you can swap out mild cheddar if you prefer and alter the amount of mustard you use.  For me, this is just the right blend, preserving the creamy mouth-feel of the boxed original with a slightly-more-adult flavor profile.

Quick Mac n Cheese
1 lb organic pasta (I used penne, but you can obviously use elbows)
1 1/2 cup half and half (from cows not treated with growth hormones)
12 oz shredded sharp cheddar (same as above)
2 tsp dried mustard
1/2 tsp salt

Boil pasta; drain and keep warm.  Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients and stir constantly until cheese is melted.  Fold in pasta and cover completely.  Serve just with some simple salt and cracked pepper to taste.

The Analysis

Fast:  This took just slightly longer than the boxed version, at about 20 minutes of prep time.  Still plenty fast for a work night dinner.

Cheap:  Not as cheap as the boxed stuff, but my insistence on organic ingredients helps me be sure I'm avoiding any residual growth hormones or exposure to glyphosate (Roundup).

Good;  I'm prepared to declare this the equal of any childhood favorite.  Therefore, I've made an important substitution that is healthier through the use of cleaner ingredients.
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Thursday, January 7, 2016

How Much Does a Garden Grow: December and 2015 Summary

As it always does, December ended with a small harvest of four ounces of peppers and one of limes. But this harvest capped off a year in which we had a net profit of $342.23, saved right off our grocery bill. We needed it, too.  I don't know about you guys, but 2015 was rough on a lot of levels.  I couldn't even grow a decent crop of zucchini, for heaven's sake. The year brought some good stuff, but every time we got kicked in nearly every segment of life, we really got kicked.

Anyway, the retail value of our crops turned out as follows:

Limes: $0.37
Garlic: $1.48
Herbs (not basil, fresh): $$0.48
Carrots: $5.32
Tomato, Cuor di Bue: $86.75
Tomato, Yulia: $25.75
Tomato: Window Box Roma: $7.50
Tomato: San Marzano: $61.00
Tomato, Black Krim: $37.75
Tomato, PW*: $7.25
Tomato, SF*: $10.75
Tomato, Heinz: $6.50
Toamto, RB*: $9.50
Tomato, Indigo Rose: $1.50
Beans: $25.08
Peppers: $5.51
Cucumbers: $153.92
Zucchini: $5.32
Blueberries: $12.00
Peas: $0.29
Potatoes: $3.15
Leeks: $0.67
Greens: $8.80

*No, as a matter of fact, I don't really remember what PW, SF, and RB stand for.  Since these tomatoes didn't bear much fruit, they aren't varieties I care much about growing again, anyway.

Luckily, the things I really depend on for our diet did well this year.  We had lots of tomatoes and tons of cucumbers, and those kept us well-fed through the summer and generated some canned goods for winter.  Blueberries and beans were important in their season, too, and low-value crops like potatoes still made for some really great meals without any investment (since we use store-bought potatoes that have sprouted as seed, everything is a way to recover from a loss).

Every year at this time, I swear that I'm only going to grow the varieties of crops that performed well; indeed, the top-producing tomatoes were all grown from seed here at home (Cuor di Bue, San Marzano, and Yulia).  However, I know I will fall victim to bringing home some lonely plants that peek up at me in the local nursery, hardware store, or grocery.  I just can't help it!

Cumulative Totals

Harvest, Ounces: 2,331.0
Harvest, Pounds: 145.6875
Harvest Value: $483.63

Expenditures: $141.40

Total Saved: $342.23
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