So, can you tell the snow days are wearing me down? Three posts in one day! We'll see if I keep this up once spring is here and I'm busy at school and in the gardens.
This post is all those other tid-bits I kept thinking I should have included in my cooking post, but they didn't quite fit there. So, more to keep you saving green and living a life of a steward of the earth.
As I mentioned earlier, we purchase (and barter) our coffee from BGB, whom we love dearly. Not only does he provide us with the best coffee in America, but he also readily gives us his grounds for the garden. We've collected grounds from him and StickBoy, which has been a blessing for the blueberries yet to come. When we brew our coffee here at home, we use the unbleached filters, because those can also be composted. I'm also trying a new method of putting the new grounds on the old ones, assuming they've only been in the basket a day. This saves us on filters. I've also been known to, especially in summer, brew a big pot in the morning and then put it in the fridge. When I want iced coffee, it's easy because the coffee is already cold, so I don't have to put ice in with the milk and chocolate syrup (Benny is addicted to Hershey's... we haven't gone organic here... yet.) If I want another flavor, sometimes I'll add cinnamon to the basket before brewing, or add a splash of vanilla to the mug before mixing in my cream and sugar. (Benny saves us some green here by drinking his black; I just can't stomach it that way, even BGB. Sorry Don!)
We also make our own vanilla extract, which is so much cheaper than purchasing it in those tiny bottles. It's not entirely organic, since I don't know where to get organic vodka here in the High Country, but I do try to use organic vanilla beans. (Costco does have a great deal on vanilla beans. We got 10 before the holidays for around $12. I've also purchased them from Whole Foods.) In a half pint canning jar, I simply combine one split vanilla bean and fill it up with vodka. Usually a fifth of vodka will make about 4 half pint jars. These make great gifts, and when the jar is empty, you can put the beans in a canister of sugar to make vanilla sugar (also excellent in coffee). We must have looked like such boozers around the holidays with all the vodka we had around to make vanilla for gifts! I'm going to try my hand at using the same method this summer to get mint extract, and may use the grapefruit and tangerines we've got in the fridge to make a citrus extract (using just the zest).
In addition to making our own veggie stock, we also make chicken stock, though not as frequently. When whole chickens are on sale (rock bottom at about 29 cents a pound--when we have our own chickens, I'll have to find someone else to butcher them for me... I just don't think I can do that!), I buy one or two and cut it up. (This is fairly easy with a good pair of boning scissors and much like a high school biology dissection, without having to be quite as neat and tidy. Leave it to a science teacher to come up with that analogy...) Then, I put the whole, cut up chicken in the crockpot, leaving the giblets in the freezer to use for gravy later, along with an quartered onion, carrot, and bay leaf. Then, I turn it on low and let it cook while we're at work. When we get home, the house smells great and we've got homemade chicken stock, as well as a whole cooked chicken. At this point, I pull the chicken out and shred it off the bones. Then, we freeze the chicken meat in freezer containers (it's great for casseroles, soups, and tacos) and freeze the stock. I try to freeze the stock in a variety of portion sizes so that I have what I need for various recipes. I keep one cup, two cup, and three cup portions on hand. I'm also going to try freezing some of the next batch in muffin tins, which I'll then pop out when they're frozen. This will give me perfect 1/2 cup portions for sauces, like the sweet and sour sauce we love to use with stir fry.
The last thing I wanted to share in this post was how we reuse the "unusable" portions of a few fruits. First, whenever we have strawberries, I always cut the caps off. Of course, these could go in the compost bin, but then we wouldn't have a great, wholesome, low calorie treat for our precious Lavender. (Here's a picture of her in the snow.) So, I freeze the strawberry caps and whenever we're working on some training with her or rewarding her for a certain behavior, this is what she loves. (She'll just about pee on command for one!)
We also have a great recipe for candied grapefruit peel, thanks to my kitchen diva, Aunt Debbie. We save those in a freezer bag and when it's full, we make the candied grapefruit peel, which is a wonderful treat and also makes great gifts. This recipe does take a few days, because of the process, so it's great for making on snow days. Since I've got yet another snow day tomorrow, I'm going to start our batch for the year in the morning. I'll post the recipe at the bottom of this post.
A new method of using citrus fruit peels was one that I read about in a gardening for birds book I checked out from the library. Apparently, you can make your own suet for birds by using the fat drippings from any kind of meat (which I save in a can in the fridge because it's easier to dispose of that way), mix in peanut butter and various nuts or seeds with the melted fat, and then pour into citrus fruit halves (you can leave the membrane). The birds apparently love them, and you can just poke them onto a branch or nail them to a fence post. So, I'm going to try this with one grapefruit half and I'll let you know how it goes.
Candied Grapefruit Peel (I've also used naval orange peels, as long as they're thick)
Remove membrane and white pithy stuff from each grapefruit half.
Soak halves in a salt brine overnight (I use a stock pot)
Drain in the morning.
Cover with fresh water and bring to a boil. Boil 3-4 minutes and drain. Repeat two times.
Remove from pot and cut into strips (I usually do about 1/2 inch wide strips). Return to pot with no water.
Pour over strips 1/4 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar per whole grapefruit (make sure you have enough sugar on hand for this step)
Stir/shake over medium low heat until all the water is gone and the peel is close to burning.
Place on wax paper to cool and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
These will keep for several weeks at room temperature in an airtight container. Just make sure they are nice and cool (and dry) before putting in the container.