Kitchen / Garden / Sanctuary - Urban Homesteading to Nourish Body + Spirit

Month: November 2009 (Page 1 of 2)

UPDATED Kitchen Tip: Keeping Olive Oil Fresh with…Water?

Remember when I posted this in August? Maybe not? Just as well, because I’ve updated it. Scroll down to the “Update!” section to read how I got the water out of the bottle so I could use up the last bit of olive oil. 😉

Storing Olive Oil with Water

We’ve all heard that heat, light, and air cause oils to oxidize and go rancid. I used to keep my olive oil in the fridge, but it would solidify and I had to plan ahead if I wanted to use it. This was too inconvenient, so I stopped doing it. Recently, I “upgraded” and bought a more expensive Tuscan olive oil at Costco that came in a dark-colored bottle. The dark color prevents the oil from light exposure (especially at the store with all its bright lights). To lessen the oil’s exposure to air, I’ve started topping up my olive oil bottle with water!

After I use any oil, I pour more water into the bottle so that it’s always filled to the top (where there’s only a tiny bit of air between oil and cap). At first, it felt really weird to pour water into the bottle. But since they “mix like oil and water” :-), there’s no problem because the water just settles to the bottom. When using the oil, I just pour carefully so that no water comes up to the surface. I’m wondering what’ll happen when I get to the bottom of the bottle, when there’s only a bit of oil left. Maybe just saute something with it, and let the water boil off? If I ever do get to the bottom of this giant bottle, I’ll let you know what happens.

UPDATE! Okay, I did eventually get to the bottom of the bottle. Toward the end there, I had to pour much more carefully so that the water didn’t come out with the oil. Annoying. When I’d had enough of that, I thought of a clever little way to get the water out: put the bottle in the fridge…on its side…tilted downward, as seen below. Last night’s dinner, covered in foil, works great for supporting the bottle:

Separating oil from water in the fridge

Fridge-eye view. The oil has solidified and I can now just pour off the water.

That way, the oil solidifies from the cold and you can open the cap and pour out all the water! Smart huh. Be sure to set the bottle so that it’s tilted slightly downward; that way, the oil doesn’t solidify and block the opening of the bottle.

Okay, back to the original post:

I’ve read conflicting information (are you as tired of conflicting information as I am??) about storing olive oil in the fridge. Some say yes, some say no. Here’s one perspective, with some interesting FAQs about olive oil, “quality” standards (or lack thereof, it turns out), and storage:

I think I’ll transfer my bottle to a cabinet under the countertop, but away from the stove. I figure I’ll be covering all the bases: keeping the olive oil cool (near the floor, away from the stove), in a dark place (in the cabinet), with minimal air exposure (if I keep topping it up with water).

Do you have a “best practices” method for storing your olive oil? I’d love to know what it is!

My Favorite Cranberry Relish for Thanksgiving

The arrow points to the Cranberry Mandarin Ginger Relish...

The arrow points to the Cranberry Mandarin Ginger Relish...

Sorry I don’t have a better picture of my very favorite Cranberry Relish! I make this all autumn long, while fresh cranberries are easily obtainable. For the Thanksgiving table, it’s a great thing to make a day (two days is even better!) ahead of time since the relish seems to mellow out as it sits for a while.

It’s a bright, zingy surprise on the palate, which is a nice contrast to the creamier, cooked tastes of most other traditional dishes on the table. I love it!

Update: Okay, here’s a better picture of it! 🙂

Cranberry Mandarin Ginger Relish

Cranberry Mandarin Ginger Relish

1 12-oz bag fresh, raw cranberries, washed and picked through

1 good-sized mandarin orange or tangerine, well-washed, seeded and cut into 1″ dice (rind and all)

1/4 cup sugar (I like rapadura or sucanat)

1/2 cup coarsely chopped crystallized ginger

1/4 cup orange marmalade

In a food processor, pulse the cranberries until they’re chopped (but not too fine!). Empty them into a bowl.

chopped cranberries

Next, put the mandarin chunks into the processor and pulse until the pieces of rind are about the same size as the cranberries. You don’t want a cranberry-orange paste…you want to be able to differentiate the ingredients with both your eyes and your palate.

Mix the mandarin with the cranberries, and then mix in the rest of the ingredients. This can be eaten right away, but I find that letting it sit a little while (a couple days in the fridge) allows the flavors to blend and mellow. I sometimes like to add toasted pecans to garnish the top right before serving.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Do you have any nice plans? The Hubby and I are going over to my parents’ house; we’re bringing a nice salad, the pumpkin pie, and the eggnog. I’m looking forward to a nice, low-key afternoon of good food and good company. A day off from work is okay too! 😉

We Survived H1N1!

Swine Flu kitchen floor crime scene

I think I'd be a good poster child for the H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic.

We got the Swine Flu. Well, we’re pretty sure it was Swine Flu. The hubby brought it home from work, though didn’t even know he was sick at first! Totally unfair. I got it much worse than he did. It came on extremely fast with almost no warning, and will go down as possibly the biggest, baddest flu I’ve ever had. Definitely the sickest I’ve been in a long, long time. It was all the usual stuff — fever, chills, body aches, painful skin, sneezing, coughing, headache, stuffy nose, nausea, dehydration — but much worse and longer lasting than usual. It was the first time my fever’s ever reached nearly 104*!

So, to chronicle my participation in the Great Swine Flu Pandemic of 2009, hubby took a photo of what might look like a crime scene on our kitchen floor, but was actually me just not quite able to make it back to bed. Yep, that’s real…no posing, no acting.

And so I’m finally up out of bed this afternoon. Yes it feels great. And I did discover during my feverish week in bed that the small cluster of bleach spots on the bed sheets near my head bears a striking resemblance to the continents of the world. A little hint, perhaps, that the world will be united not by love or peace, but by Swine Flu. 😉

Make Your Own Bubbies Pickles

Have you ever had Bubbies? It’s the brand against which all other pickles are judged, at least in our house! My hubby is a huge fan. And if you like garlic, you’ll probably appreciate Bubbies, too. They’re not made with vinegar, but rather are made the old-fashioned way, though lacto-fermentation in brine. (I have a Bubbie’s Bread & Butter Chips pickle recipe too, which is made with vinegar.)

So for my very first attempt at homemade pickles, I turned the Bubbies jar upside down, identified which spices were in there, selected what looked like a good lacto-fermented pickle recipe, and hoped for the best as I sacrificed a couple of humongous garden cucumbers for the Great Pickle Experiment.

The results were shocking…in that I was shocked I had made something so tasty and convincing on the very first try. I certainly had expected the worst. In fact, I thought Hubby was being sarcastic when he tried the first one and told me they were awesome. He couldn’t stop talking about them! I was skeptical until I tried one, too. YO! Later, I did a taste test of my pickles compared to Bubbies; I actually liked mine even better! In the photo above, I used my large garden cucumbers, but to get the true Bubbies experience, go for the really small cukes; I find these at the farmer’s market, or at ethnic grocery stores. Go for organic if you can (which would be an upgrade from Bubbies, since theirs aren’t organic). Of course the really big cucumbers are fine to use, but because of their size, their insides won’t be quite as firm and crunchy as a smaller cucumber would be, and their skin will be a little tougher.


Lindsey’s Bubbies Pickle Recipe:

1 gallon glass jar or ceramic crock

1/2 a gallon of warm water (tap water is fine)

A handful of fresh, clean grape leaves, oak leaves, or cherry leaves (optional — they supply tannins to keep the pickles crunchy) (UPDATE: raspberry & blackberry leaves work too, but have a stronger flavor than grape leaves)

3-4 lbs of cucumbers (small to medium is ideal, but if all you have is large, cut them into spears)

5-6 Tbsp non-iodized sea salt. I use Redmond RealSalt brand unrefined sea salt. (I usually prefer 6 Tbsp. Using 5 Tbsp of salt will yield a less salty pickle that my hubby prefers, however you may have to contend with more white film, or “kahm yeast,” on the surface of the brine during fermentation. More about kahm yeast in the instructions.)

2 – 3 heads of garlic, separated into cloves, peeled, & roughly chopped

3 Tbsp whole dill seed

2 Tbsp whole coriander seed

1 tsp whole mustard seed (brown or yellow, doesn’t matter)

1 tsp whole peppercorns

1 tsp fennel seed

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes


Ingredients for Homemade Bubbie's Pickles

Ingredients for Homemade Bubbies Pickles. My homegrown garlic was a little small, so I used 4 heads.



Rinse the cucumbers, making sure the blossoms are removed. Soak them in very cold water for a couple hours (if they’re not straight off the vine).

In a separate clean jar (not the one you’ll be using for the pickles), dissolve the salt into the 1/2 gallon of warm water. Set aside — this brine will be one of the last things you’ll add.

Into the clean, gallon jar/crock you’ll be using for the pickles, drop in the garlic, dill, coriander, mustard, peppercorns, fennel, and red pepper flakes.

Then, put the cucumbers into the jar. If you’ve sliced large cucumbers into spears, pack the spears vertically into the jar.

Pour the salt water solution (a.k.a. the brine) over the cucumbers.

Now, place the cleaned grape/oak/cherry/raspberry/blackberry leaves into the jar. My jar has a somewhat narrow mouth, so the grape leaves form a nice plug at the top of the jar so the cucumbers (which will rise to the top after you pack them in) don’t go above the brine.

You want your cucumbers (and leaves) to be completely submerged in the brine at all times. If they’re sticking up above the brine, they’ll get moldy. If your jar has a wide mouth, you may need to use a couple of plates to keep everything submerged. Another idea is to nest a smaller glass jar into the opening of the larger jar to keep everything down. Or, use a scrubbed & sterilized rock.

Using nested jars to keep everything submerged.

Another idea: use a rock to keep everything submerged.

If the brine still doesn’t cover the cucumbers, make more brine solution using: 1 scant Tbsp sea salt to one cup of water. Cover your jar with its lid (loosely), or with a cloth to keep bugs & dust out. If you see a thin film of white scum growing on the surface of the water, just skim it off as often as you can, but don’t worry if you can’t get it all. This is “kahm yeast;” it won’t harm anything, but do try to keep up with it otherwise it can affect the flavor of your pickles.

Sometimes, during pickle making, some of your garlic cloves will turn blue. This is not a problem. The Colorado Extension Service website says this about blue garlic:

Blue, purple or blue-green garlic may result from immature garlic or garlic that is not fully dry, from copper pans, or from a high amount of copper in the water. Garlic contains anthocyanin, a water-soluble pigment that under acid conditions may turn blue or purple. A blue-green color also may develop in pickles made with stored red-skinned garlic. Except for blue-green color resulting from an abnormally high copper-sulfate concentration, such color changes do not indicate the presence of harmful substances.

Your pickles will be ready after 1-4 weeks — depending on the temperature in your house. Our pickles are usually ready after 10 days on the counter in our warm apartment (average of 80-85°F) in late summer. Every couple days, do a taste test of your pickles. They’re ready when they taste done to you! Once they taste done, transfer the jar into the fridge to slow fermentation. Once they’ve fermented and are in the fridge, you can remove the grape/oak/cherry/raspberry/blackberry leaves and you don’t need to worry as much about the pickles being completely submerged in the brine.

Enjoy! These will last months and months in your fridge. I once kept a batch around for 9 months and it was still good.

And the brine is good stuff too; I like to drink it straight. It’s full of beneficial bacteria and good for your digestion! Since it’s salty, it would be especially good after a workout.


Cheap + Tasty: Greek Melt Pita Sandwiches

Greek Melt Pita Sandwiches

This dish has a special place in my heart; it was the “last supper” I ate with my very dear childhood friend, Sonja, before she was killed in a car accident the next day. We had the best time out in my garden that day, chattering away and harvesting New Zealand spinach and cherry tomatoes for these delicious Greek Melt Pita Sandwiches. And each time I’ve made them since, I’ve had loved ones around the table to enjoy this dish with me! Everyone loves it!

Since this is a frugal-yet-nourishing dish (not to mention delicious!), I’m linking it up with Pennywise Platter Thursday over at The Nourishing Gourmet.

Greek Melt Pita Sandwiches

Serves 2

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (or, chop up regular tomatoes until they measure about a pint)

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

4 oz crumbled feta cheese

2/3 cup plain yogurt

About 2 Tbsp lemon juice

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1 10-oz bag spinach, washed (or, use frozen spinach for a more frugal option)

2 whole wheat pitas (or, 1 pita split in half to share) (I’ve also used tortillas in a pinch!)

For the tomatoes: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatoes with 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1/4 tsp of the salt. Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, on a baking sheet. (If you don’t want to turn on the oven, this can also be done in a skillet.) Bake till they are just softened, about 10 minutes.

For the sauce: Meanwhile, get a small bowl and whisk together the feta, yogurt, lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp salt; set aside.

For the spinach: Add 1/2 Tbsp of the olive oil to a skillet. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook and stir until garlic is soft and just turning golden. Add the spinach and the remaining 1/2 tsp salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is just wilted, about 4 minutes.

For the pitas: Brush both sides of the pitas with the remaining 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil. Place in the oven (or into a toaster) and heat till lightly toasted.

To assemble: Place the pitas on plates. Top with the spinach and tomatoes. Drizzle the yogurt-feta sauce on top. Serve open-faced, or fold it in half like a sandwich.

New Zealand Spinach - Greek Melt Pita Sandwiches

New Zealand Spinach from the garden

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