In my house, Sundays are for cooking. But cooking in my house is not merely cooking. During cooking, I also am collecting scraps for composting and empty containers for recycling. And this past Sunday, during cooking, I found a lost dog, returned him to his owner, and even changed the water in my fish tank. It was a busy day. And, except for the whole lost dog thing, it all fits in with my normal view that cooking, composting, and recycling all go together.
I started out by pulling all my fresh vegetables. Currently, I have mostly root vegetables. This is how my kitchen table normally looks when I’m doing the cooking for a few days:
And the sink often looks like this:
So, other than washing my lettuce for lunches, the first order of business was to sauté some onions and peppers. Sautéed onions and peppers are the foundation of many a lovely meal. I used red and sweet onions and some random peppers that grew in our garden. There are actually 2 kinds of peppers here. One is a semi-hot pepper, I can’t remember the name, and the other was marked as jalapeno but is clearly not. I used a tablespoon or so of olive oil.
After this was nice and golden brown, I added mushrooms, a bit of fresh garlic, and beer. Always beer. As this is going to accompany grilled bratwurst, a nice dark, hearty beer is in order. I’m fond of this:
Here’s what my dish looked like when it was finished:
While that was cooking, I peeled the massive zucchinis that were a gift from Thing 1’s close friend. Then I sliced them length-wise. I then took some Italian sausage and removed it from its casing before browning.
I added onion, fresh garlic, fresh basil, some pepper, salt, onion powder, fresh onion, mushrooms, dark red wine, and tomato paste and cooked until all the aromas had time to develop and the sauce had a lovely, balanced flavor. At the end, I added baby spinach and cooked until the spinach was just wilted. Then I turned off the burner and mixed in some leftover whole wheat pasta and used it to stuff the zucchini. I grated some hard grating cheese (I believe my current grating cheese is Romano, but I don’t know for sure) on top. Then I baked it, covered at 350 F for about 45 minutes. This is before:
This is after:
I really needed some diced tomatoes (or fresh, I really prefer fresh but my tomatoes are still green). It’s not nearly as moist as I had hoped. I snuck a taste though, and it is pleasing.
Somewhere in here, my husband cubed a lovely beef roast. I peeled and diced potato, carrot, and onion. We added water, fresh rosemary, onion salt, fresh garlic, fresh ground pepper, and mushrooms. Oh, and beer. The same black rice beer I added to the sausage, peppers, and onions (and mushrooms). Everything went into the crock pot and cooked overnight. Here is during the prep stage:
As I wasn’t using recipes this day, I don’t have measurements. When I cook, I normally just eyeball everything. I know what and how much to add. This is how my husband cooks also. Baking is different. Baking can’t be “ish”. Cooking allows for margins of error. One can almost always fix any misjudgments made in seasoning and quantities. I much prefer cooking over baking.
While I am baking, I am collecting food scraps for our compost pile. We have a garbage disposal. During warmer months, I don’t use it because I prefer to save the food scraps for the compost. I just learned though that I shouldn’t actually use my garbage disposal during other months either unless my local waste water treatment facility has a bio-capture facility. I doubt that mine does. I never considered the environmental impact of garbage disposal use before. I’ve always lived in a house that had one. You can read more about this issue here. Reading this has made me want to try either bucket composting or building a composter in a barrel that may be able to work in the winter. Or both really. A friend of mine told me that he knows someone who composts in this area (Cleveland) year round because of the way he built his compost bin. He ran PVC with holes at the bottom. He adds a leaching agent to the tubing at regular intervals and this keeps the reaction going even when it gets cold. I need to do more investigation.
I boiled eggs for my salads. See:
I used the red pickles I made last week. These things are amazing. They are great on sandwiches, they are delightful in salads. They are fun to eat all by themselves. I usually can’t eat onions unless they’re cooked into oblivion but these don’t cause any digestive issues at all. I love them. They take no time to make. I love mixed baby greens, but this red leaf lettuce is much cheaper and yummy too. I add whatever I have on hand to top my salads. Usually, I have chick peas. Those are just fantastic on salad. I was all out of chick peas this week though. And, as I mentioned before, my tomatoes aren’t in yet. So I used some left over shredded cheese, the hard boiled eggs, red onion, and sunflower seeds. Salad dressing is olive oil, apple cider vinegar, a little salt, and a little pepper. It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it’s healthy.
After the picture was taken, I also chopped up the rest of the celery I had because it was getting near the end of its life. Although I would compost it if it had gone bad, I prefer not to be wasteful.
I bought a little turkey ham, so I made some mashed potatoes. I always boil the potatoes with the skin on. They are even better when steamed with the skin on. More flavor and I’ve been told one loses less nutrients that way over boiling.
Some of my potatoes had started to sprout, geez I hate those stupid opaque potato bags. I cut off those ends and am going to use them for an experiment. My kids and I worked on it tonight.
While the potatoes were boiling, I cut up my cucumbers because I wanted to try half sour pickles. I had them at that bison place in Columbus and couldn’t get enough.
This is a time where I did refer to a recipe. I’ve included it because I can’t find where I got it from. I also changed a few of the ingredients.
Half Sour Pickles
6 pickling cukes (unwaxed, small cukes)
4 T Kosher salt
2 ½ T minced garlic (from jar)
1 T Cumin
2 t crushed red pepper flakes
¼ t fennel
¼ t carroway
1 ½ T of my pickling spice (Whole black pepper corns, Dill seed, & celery seed)
1 T Mexican oregano
1 T onion powder
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp corriander
Wash cukes and slice in half length-wise then slice cross-wise in about ½ to ¾ inch pieces. Place in large non metal bowl. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over cukes. Cukes must be completely covered in brine solution so if they are not then add more water to cover. Cover with a plate that fits completely in bowl and weigh the plate down with another bowl to keep cukes submerged. Cover with a clean towel.
Please see the link below as well as the following recipe for directions on the fermenting process. I wish that I could give credit to the site/person that the recipe came from, but I can’t find it anymore.
This list of ingredients may seem long, but I already had them in my pantry. I don’t know how important the fennel and carroway are so if you don’t already have it and won’t use it for anything else I don’t know if I would advise that you go out and buy it. I wish that I had used mustard seed instead of the powder, but I didn’t have any on hand.
I will give an update when my fermentation is complete.
Within 3 days you should see tiny bubbles rising in the jar; this means that fermentation has begun. If scum forms on top of the brine, skim it off daily. If so much brine bubbles out that the pickles aren’t well covered, add some more brine made in the same proportion of salt to water. The pickles should be ready within a week, when they taste sour and when the tiny bubbles have stopped rising. Skim off any scum at the top of the jar, cap the jar, and store the pickles in the refrigerator for about 3 days, after which time they should be olive-green throughout. They are best eaten within about 3 weeks. Makes 1 quart
It hasn’t been the prescribed week, so I don’t know how they taste yet. I’m very excited to try. The changes I made are as follows:
- Kosher salt: I used pink Himalayan salt and didn’t bother to grind it as I figure it’ll dissolve in the water anyway.
- Jarred of mniced garlic: I used 1 clove of fresh minced garlic
- Fennel: I assume as it doesn’t mention fennel seed that the ground powder is meant to be used, I used the seeds
- Carroway: I used seeds not powder
- Pickling spice: I used equal parts of the three ingredients but used powdered dill as I didn’t have dill seeds
- Mexican oregano: piss off. I didn’t even know there was any kind other than Italian oregano. I didn’t know to call it Italian. I just read about the types of oregano here. I’m not buying other types of oregano. I already have 4 different kinds of paprika. I’m not adding multiple types of oregano.
- Dry mustard: I used the seeds, although I had powder also
- Corriander: I only had seeds
Here’s how the seasoning mix looked prior to me adding water:
I put the pickles in the fridge, although I’m not sure if this was correct. I suspect it’s not. I also used a lid. Fortunately, or not, I have plenty of Rubbermaid lids with holes so there is still some air exchange. See:
And last, I made my mashed potatoes. After they were soft, I ran them under cold water and removed the peels. I usually use my hand masher but I was crazing really smooth mashed potatoes and decided to use the food processor. I added the potatoes and some buttermilk and salt to the food processor and blended until smooth and creamy. Often I add garlic and Olivio and fresh ground pepper (my peppermill is filled with a peppercorn mix containing several different colors of peppercorn). I may add onion powder, fresh rosemary. This day, I only added the 3 ingredients I previously mentioned. Be careful not to overblend or the potatoes will be sticky/starchy. .
They are so creamy that it looks like vanilla pudding rather than mashed potatoes. Never fear, they are delicious.
All of this took about 2 ½ hours. As I mentioned, my husband helped by taking care of the meat for the stew and taking over the zucchini stuffing while I rounded up and returned the lost dog that wandered into my yard.
During my cooking adventure time, I scooped my little fish out of his fish bowl and changed half the water. Dirty fish water is excellent fertilizer. We used to have 2 large fish tanks. Water changed would produce 5 gallon pails of dirty fish water. My husband would always admonish me to save it for his garden. In the winter some was wasted because we don’t have enough house plants to use all the water we generated during fish tank cleaning. Pity actually.
There’s my happy little betta fish in his clean fish tank. Don’t protest. He was a birthday present. I’ve asked my children to but a bigger tank for him as my Christmas present. And some cheap decorations so he has somewhere to hide and feel secure. A half gallon tank seems cruel to me. We’ve already bought better food than the fish flakes that came in his kit. We also named him after my son. He is the Monkey King, fish edition!
This reminds me. Another source of good water for gardens is the water I use to soak my salad greens. If it hadn’t rained so much the previous several days, I would have used a bucket to scoop out the water from the sink to use in the gardens.
Then there are the food scraps. Meat scraps generally go directly to the cat and dog. They are very aware of when we’re cutting meat and are very attentive during that time. But everything else, except citrus, goes in the compost. I use an old salad greens tub to collect all the food waste
Then I take it out to the compost heap and bury it in the middle.
Beautiful, beautiful compost. In addition to food scraps, we try to compost all our grass clippings. I really want to build some sort of rotating barrel as turning with a shovel can be a bit hard on the back. I flat out refuse to purchase one; that would be silly. Maybe I’ll make it a weekend project with the kids. They liked helping me plant the sprouted parts of our potatoes last night.
I used the instructions from here. Although, I didn’t plant the entire potato. I only planted the sprout-y bits. I made 2 buckets. It cost $5 for a bag of top soil and a bag of pea gravel; I always have 5 gallon buckets. If it works I’m thrilled. If it doesn’t we’ll try again. It kept the kids and I busy for a bit.
So that was my Sunday. I made enough dinners for 4 nights (I just need to warm up the ham for the mashed potatoes and grill the bratwurst for the sautéed peppers and onions), packed mine and my husband’s lunches for a week, played with making pickles, cleaned the fish tank, turned the compost, reunited a lost dog and its owner, and prepared to plant some sprouted potatoes. Then I got to sit down and enjoy some Crown and Diet Pepsi and watch True Blood guilt-free!