Fast-Tip Friday: Drying Herbs

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If you’re lucky, you still have time to run out and grab the rest of your late-summer herbs from the garden and do something with them before it’s too late. If you’re me, then while you were out of the country for work the temperatures dropped below zero and now all your basil is a disgusting black mess.

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HOWEVER, there’s still hope for a good number of your other hardier herbs.

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Since the summer, I’ve been hauling baskets of herbs inside to process. Some end up in butter (because mmmm, butter), and some, like the lemongrass stalks you see in this basket, go in the freezer. But most of them, I dry. It takes almost zero effort on my part and then the herbs are there for me to mix and package as gifts: spice rubs and herbal teas are quick and easy to make.

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What makes it easiest is this handy-dandy herb dryer that I picked up from Lee Valley. Hang it somewhere out of the way with good air circulation (for us, that’s over the side of our main staircase), and then just shove it full of fresh herbs.

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The mesh will allow air to circulate on all sides, meaning nothing gets mouldy or soggy, and some of your herbs, like lemon balm, will dry in a matter of days. And you didn’t have to do ANYTHING!

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Added bonus: for the few days it takes these herbs to start to dry up, the hallway smells like pizza or lemons or whatever we’ve got in the shelves.

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Etching Glass

This project was probably one of the most enjoyable that we did this past Christmas.  Hazardous, yes, because you are dealing with a caustic liquid and its attendant dangers, but fun nonetheless.  This is NOT a project you can do with children.  You need to work in a well-ventilated area and you need to wear rubber or latex gloves as well as safety goggles while you are doing it.For etching glass I used Armour Etch, a glass etching cream that I picked up from Lee Valley.  You can get it at Michael’s as well, if you are prepared to pay about three times the price for it.  It’s good stuff.  Keep in mind it does not work on plastic and most Pyrex.

First, however, you need to create your stencils.  I printed out some images from the internet and then traced them onto clear vinyl masking (also from Lee Valley).The tracing and cutting out is really the hard part in all of this.Next, carefully peel the backing form the mask and apply it firmly to your clean and dry glass.  Make sure there are no bubbles or gaps.You can also use masking tape to outline certain areas.Next, very (very) carefully paint on the etching cream in a thick layer in the area you wish to be etched.  If you accidentally get cream anywhere else than you intended, it will leave a permanent mark.The instructions say to leave the cream on for 5 to 10 minutes, but I found it worked better if I left it on for 20.  In some cases you may also find that a second application is in order.When your time is up, rinse the glass object thoroughly in warm water.  I found the cream came off best if I brushed it with the paint brush.  As a side note, do not rinse off the etching cream in an enamel sink — only rinse in a metal or plastic sink or you will find yourself without an enamel sink …Peel off your masking and throw it away.  You may have to rinse the glass again if there was any cream caught in the crevices of the stencil.  Dry the glass thoroughly and you’re all done.  This is a jar for my brother-in-law Rusty to keep his keys and phone in so he doesn’t lose them.  If you don’t recognize it, that’s the Rebel Alliance insignia from Star Wars.I also used the cream on a vase for my sister-in-law Meg:Some cups and saucers for the Mtree Duo:An AT-AT jar for my brother Ando (in keeping with the Star Wars theme):And a coffee jar for the ever-caffeinated Cait, among other things:This was so much fun the Pie and I agreed we would try to think of new glass objects to give people for Christmas next year.  You can pick up glass items from pretty much anywhere for relatively little: IKEA (where I got the jars), Winners/Home Sense (where Rusty’s and Meg’s vases came from), and let’s not forget second-hand shops (Mtree duo’s cups and saucers came from there).  Get creative!

 

Painting Glass and Ceramics

Adding a personal design to glass and ceramics is very easy and something fun you can do with creative kids. You can pick up plain glass and ceramic housewares secondhand, and I find some good stuff in the clearance section of places such as Home Sense and Winners.

I used the Vitrea 160 and Porcelain 150 pens that I picked up from Michaels.

To make your designs, you can freehand with the pens, or use masking tape to contain your ink.You can also use transparent adhesive masking (from Lee Valley) to create a stencil as well.Peel the mask away carefully.  This is easiest to do when the design is still wet.Once the design has dried you can use a razor blade or craft knife to carefully scrape away any ink that has bled through the masking.If you’re not happy with your design, you can always use a scrubby sponge to scrape it off and begin again.  Leave your final design to cure for 24 hours, then bake your glass or ceramics in the oven according to the instructions on the ink.That’s all there is to it.  Have fun!

Button Magnets

Martha Stewart has a clever method of dealing with almost everything.  In this particular case, it’s the leftover buttons you have lying around after they’ve fallen off shirts or come as spares with clothing you can’t even remember.  It’s easy to make fridge magnets out of them.  Well, easy if you’re not me, of course.

I picked up a selection of rare earth magnets from Lee Valley for a reasonable price — ninety magnets, to be precise.  I like to go whole hog into things like this.  Rare earth magnets are super strong, so be careful not to get them near your electronics or credit cards. 

If you like the shape of some of your buttons but not the colour, you can always paint them with model paint.  I of course managed to get myself coated in model paint when I did this, but I’m sure you have more advanced motor skills than I do.

The process is pretty simple. 

You take your magnets.  You take your buttons.  You take a glue gun.  You apply burning hot glue to either the magnet or the button (be careful here because of course the magnet will try to stick to your glue gun and unhappy situations can arise from that).  You try not to swear too loudly when you miss and accidentally apply burning hot glue to your finger.  Or when you accidentally adhere either the magnet or the button to your person.  Or the table.  Or the floor.  These things happen.

Once the glue is cooled you can click those babies right onto your fridge or wherever else you want to put them.  I found that some buttons didn’t like the glue and fell off, so I just used different buttons.  You may find the same thing.

Some Cool Things My Parents Do

I get a lot of my DIY-know-it-all from my parents, who have been renovating houses and cooking up a storm since before I was born.

They also know a lot of nifty shortcuts that make them look really crafty and smart while taking little to no effort on their parts.

Here are three of those shortcuts for your edification.

The first is the tablecloth curtain.  This one is in our “yellow” bathroom, which will be renovated shortly, and the tablecloth will go back to the second-hand store from whence it came.  My mother simply folded over one end for a café look and sewed on a series of tabs to hang it with.  Simple, easy, and really it makes a cozy little room.The second, also in the “yellow” bathroom (because it’s yellow, though who knows what colour they’ll paint it next), is the pot-lid holder magazine rack.  Perfect for a small space, the pot-lid holders (which you can purchase from IKEA or Lee Valley) are strong enough to hold several books and magazines for your bathroom entertainment.And the third, while we’re on the yellow theme, is the fancy dish detergent bottle.  This was an old bottle of wine my parents picked up when we were living in BC, and you used to be able to just buy refill bags of dish soap so it cut down on packaging.  Pour in the coloured dish detergent of your choice and pop in a bartender’s stopper and you’re good to go.More ideas to come.

Tarragon Chicken

I have vague memories of my mother making this a long time ago, when we lived in British Columbia.

The combination of fresh tarragon and lemon and salt permeates every inch of the chicken and it’s lovely and moist.

So take your whole chicken.  This little baby is a local Newfoundland chicken, one of the few forms of livestock produced in-province.  You can tell that they haven’t used any growth hormones because of how small it is.  And they taste really good.

Remove all the giblets and cut off the excess skin.

Work your fingers under the skin to make room for the herbs ‘n’ such.

In a small bowl, mix together some tarragon leaves and some sea salt.  Squish up the tarragon a bit.

Work it under the skin of the chicken, and then tuck in a few lemon slices.

Put extra tarragon and lemon inside the chicken.

Put the chicken in a roasting pan, or a baking pan with a small rack underneath.  This keeps the chicken out of the juices it will leak during cooking and prevents it from getting soggy.  I trussed the chicken up a little bit to give it some shape.  Just tie a bit of kitchen string around the legs and tuck it under the wings to hold everything in place.  Just keep in mind that trussed chickens don’t cook as evenly as untrussed chickens.

We’re going to do a one-dish meal here, so I’m also roasting some potatoes, together with some carrots.  Slice them up and toss them in the pan around the chicken, with a drizzling of oil and some salt and pepper.

Roast at 375°F until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 180°F.  Stir up the vegetables once or twice to make sure they brown evenly.  Stick a thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (without touching the bone) for this reading.  We have a digital thermometer from Lee Valley that beeps at us when the chicken is done.  Also, if you cut into the chicken at this point, all the juices will run clear and the meat will be white, not pink.  I’m going to turn the carcass and leftovers into chicken noodle soup.  Stay tuned.

Key Lime Pie – Messing up a classic.

I am not a perfect person, and it is my habit to make mistakes when trying new things.  And this blog is not about the perfect dessert or the best paint job – it is about experiments in grown-up living.   What follows, then, is not the first, and not the last, of my epic fails in the kitchen.  It has, however, inspired me to try again to see if I can get this right.  I have added it to my DIY To-Do list on the right-hand column.

***EDIT: The Pie wanted you to know that, despite the aesthetics of the thing, this was the best-tasting pie I have ever made.***

I found a pound of key limes at Sobeys about a week ago so I thought I would make some key lime pie. Obviously.

Key limes made in Mexico?

Key limes are smaller and sweeter than their more common cousins.

You can use regular limes, but purists will tell you it's not the same.

Now, key lime pie and lemon meringue pie are easy.  Really easy.  I decided to experiment a bit with the recipe.  The problem was that I was missing certain ingredients, which inspired me to experiment still further, and I was also coming off a rotten day, so making mistakes in the kitchen only added to my general frustration.  DON’T BAKE WHILE ANGRY.

The recipe I will give you below is how I should have done it, and I will explain as I go about how I actually did it.

I have two very shallow 8″ pie plates, and this recipe filled both of those.  I also have a deep 14″ pie plate, and it would probably fill that one by itself.  One of my next purchases is going to be a standard 9″ pie plate.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Start working on your crumb crust.  In a bowl, mix together 1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs, 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, and 2 tbsp granulated sugar. In the normal recipe, you would use plain graham crumbs and leave out the coconut.  But that wasn’t fancy enough for me.

Getting fancy with the crust.

Add in 1/2 cup of melted butter and stir until the mixture is crumbly but still dry.  You should be able to squeeze a handful of the crumb mixture between your hands and have it stick together, but not be greasy.  My major failing with the crust is that several of the recipes I was using for inspiration had me add an entire cup of butter, which made my crust soggy and prone to collapse.  You might need more than 1/2 a cup to make your mixture cohesive, but you shouldn’t need much more than that.

Put your crumb mixture into the pan and pat it up the sides and across the bottom evenly.  For a nice, flat crust surface, press a slightly smaller pie plate into the larger one to smooth the edges.

Press a smaller pan into the larger one for smooth crust.

Place your crusts in the oven and bake them for 10 minutes.  Let cool and ‘rest’ while you do the rest of this.

Take a pound of key limes (about 24) and gather the zest of about half of them.  I use a fine food rasp from Lee Valley with a zester catcher.  It makes my life a lot easier.  I recommend you pick one up.  You can use a wood rasp as well (that’s pretty much what this is, anyway).

Pick up this rasp from Lee Valley.

Zesting 12 tiny limes took quite a while, and only rendered about 2 tbsp of zest, but that’s all you really need.

Careful when rasping - it's easy to get your fingertips caught.

Now we juice the limes. First, roll each lime on the counter while pressing with your hand.  This will bruise the flesh inside and make them easier to juice.

Cut all the limes in half and juice those suckers.  This took forever for me because the juicer kept sliding all over the place.  I had to put down a silicone baking mat, kind of like this one from KitchenAid, to get the thing to stay still.   Have patience.  You should end up with about a cup of juice.  Feel free to add more from a bottle if you feel you need more.

Juicing 24 tiny limes is a pain.

After this, I was already frustrated, and things started to go downhill for me.  As I’ve said, I put too much butter in my crust, which had sagged to the centre of each pan.  I pressed paper towels into the molten crust to remove excess butter and shored up the edges as best I could before baking them again and letting them cool.

This is easiest with a mixer.

Moving on … separate 6 egg yolks and plop those suckers in the bowl of your mixer.  Most recipes say to use 4 yolks, which is what I did, but I had problems with the stuff setting.  I will explain why shortly.  Add your zest to the bowl along with 2 tbsp granulated sugar and mix on high for about 6 minutes until the stuff is pale and fluffy.

Pale and fluffy.

At this point you add your condensed milk.  All the other recipes call for a 14-oz can of condensed milk (or, if doubling the recipe, two cans).  What I have discovered, however, is that a 14-oz can is slightly over 400 mL, while the available cans in Canada seem to only contain 300 mL.  Also I only had one can and I needed two.  I did, however, have a 500 mL can of baker’s coconut milk (this is why I added the coconut to the crust).  I figured adding the coconut milk would make the filling not as sweet, which is why I added a bit of sugar to the yolks and the zest.  I might even add more sugar next time.  Anyway, the coconut milk makes everything a little more runny, so that is why I suggested using 6 yolks instead of 4, just to make sure everything sets.

So you add in your coconut milk and your condensed milk and mix it on high again for another 5 minutes or so, until thick.  Pour in the lime juice and mix until incorporated.  Pour into the cooled crusts and bake for 25-35 minutes or until the filling has just set (as in, it shouldn’t be liquidy).  Cool on a rack, then chill for at least an hour and serve with whipped cream.

Having only used 4 yolks, I had trouble getting my pie to set, though it was all right after I had chilled it.  It was certainly not a pretty pie, but I plan to make up for it.

Not very pretty, but still tasty.