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A Tale of Two Barrows

Barrows

Every serious gardener knows you need a good-quality wheelbarrow to work the soil easily. I own two barrows, as you can see above. And therein lies a tale…

I have owned a True Temper 10 cubic foot, dual-wheel speedster for a good, long while. So long, in fact, that the wooden rails of the support truck have begun to fail from age and weathering. And the tires are, well, tired (to say the least). So I decided to retire the big bucket and get another carrier. Because I have used and enjoyed the first barrow, I bought a 6 cubic foot capacity version, another True Temper. A bright yellow dual-wheel edition called a Sport Barrow 6.

That was last year.

This year I bought a few bags of compost to use around the garden space, and a bag of fertilizer. Each of which weighed 40 pounds. So I put a couple of the bags up in the Sport Barrow and headed to the back yard.

When I dumped the load, the wheelbarrow exploded. Yep, blew right up. Dangedest thing I ever did see from a farm implement.

The bucket popped clean off the four bolts that attached it to the truck. Brittle failure of the yellow plastic at all four attachments. And the load wasn’t very much, for a wheelbarrow. I don’t quite know what’s happened to True Temper’s quality controls on their plastic, but this indicates it’s to me that it’s gone badly astray. (Their marketing claims “years of service” as a feature, which is true; if you count a fraction of a year as “years,” that is.)

After I got over being mad about having lost most of $100, I got to thinking about what I could do with my two dead barrows. For Sure I wasn’t going to go buy another one! Then Paula Jo said she wanted a culinary herb garden this year, and it clicked: The yellow bucket would make a great herb garden space! And maybe, just maybe, I could build one good wheelbarrow from the remaining parts.

To make a short story long, it all worked. I took the nice, metal truck from the exploded unit and mounted the bucket from the old one onto that. The holes all lined up, and I only needed to find some kloodgey bits for the hardware. The old poly bucket (the orange one in the pic above) seems to be in good condition, and I used very large, flat cut washers at the attachment points, above and below, to distribute any point forces that might be generated at the attachments. I think it’ll last as long as the plastic remains vital, which looks to be a long while.

Here’s what the new barrow’s up to now:

Herb Garden

A few cinder blocks, some bright paint, and a bit of soil can do wonders for a busted wheelbarrow…

Enjoy the (Coming Spring) Heat!

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Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Onion Jam

This entry is part of a series, Pepper Jelly Chronicles»

Onions Blue

The lowly onion. A kitchen staple, key to so many dishes, yet most always a supporting actor, seldom the main character. Okay, French Onion Soup features this tasty root well, as does a nice plate of onion rings, hot from the oil. (Yes, onion rings are a meal. The way I make them.) A cleverly built onion frittata makes a great breakfast. Side dishes and appetizers include onion dips, pickled onions and more.

What about jams and jellies, though. Where are the onions in that? Right here, actually.

Stonewall Kitchen (no, they’re not from Stonewall, Texas) offer an interesting product: Roasted Garlic Onion Jam. I bought a jar as a Christmas present once, and promptly forgot about it. My daughter tried it on a pork roast, though, and the rest is history.

She said I simply HAD to make this jam. Multiple batches would be good; a five-gallon tub would be better.

Okay, time to do some research. I had a fair idea of what would be required, but it never hurts to casually look over a few websites do hours and hours of tedious digging and studying, so as to get it perfect. With my recent experiences with pepper jelly production I knew I could handle the kitchen part if I got the ingredients right.

To make a short story long, it’s actually easier than you might think. Oh, it takes a while, but the steps aren’t hard, and like a lot of good cooking, there’s considerable inactive time while things come together. The stages are: Make roasted garlic; make caramelized onions; make the jam; process the jam for long-term storage. (Not that I actually expect it to last long.) Said that way, you can see it’s not tough.

Let’s start with the roasted garlic. Buy six heads (bulbs) of fresh garlic. Remove excess paper-skin, but don’t separate the cloves. Cut the top of the bulb to provide access to the cloves, and remove any excess root threads so the bulb will stand up. Place each bulb on a piece of foil large enough to loosely enclose the bulb. Drizzle in about half a teaspoon of good-quality olive oil, right on the exposed ends of the cloves. Wrap each bulb in foil, then place the payloads on a baking sheet and bake at 400° F for about 45 minutes. Let stand until warm to the touch (or room temperature).

Purple Garlic

Open the foil and prepare to get messy! Grasp a bulb of roasted garlic near its base and squeeze the soft, gooey cloves out into a bowl. Use a spoon or butter knife to separate the golden-brown goodness from the dead husk, if required. A full description of this process (with pics and a special technique you might try) is shown here. Cover and refrigerate your roasted garlic for later. By the way, it’s just as easy to make a dozen bulbs as it is a half-dozen, and roasted garlic is great in so many applications. Make plenty while you’re at it.

Phase One done; on to the onions!

I cut a mixture of Texas 1015 Sweets and some ordinary yellow Spanish onions into thin rings, then roughly chopped the rings into pieces. These pieces were a mixture of lengths, but the longest were no longer than about 1.5 inches. I had 7-8 cups of onion pieces when I was done. They were so beautiful I just had to cry. Then I got the other ingredients together: 1/3 cup butter, 1.5 cup apple cider vinegar, and about 2/3 cup lemon juice. I also got out balsamic vinegar (1/3 cup or so), ground mustard (2 teaspoons), ground ginger (1/2 teaspoon), ground cloves (1/4 teaspoon, though I stubbed my toe and got more in the pot, something closer to 1/2 teaspoon), and sugar (3 cups). I used some liquid Stevia concentrate to provide the remaining sweetness while reducing the sugar content, a standard technique I’ve discussed elsewhere.

Using my new jelly pot, I melted the butter over medium heat, then added the onions and stirred. I set a timer for 8 minutes, and every time it went off I stirred the pot well, checking for color in the onions. They cook down a lot at this point, and it takes patience to keep stirring and cooking. Don’t be tempted to run the heat up for speed, you’ll scorch the onions that way. And believe me, nobody wants scorched onion jam!

Once the onions have achieved a nice, golden brown, it’s time to build the jam. First, though, I set my canner up with water and got that heating so it’d be ready to go when the jam’s done. I put some (cleaned) half-pint jelly jars in the oven and heated to 250° F.

Allium in Buckets

In went most of the remaining ingredients: The roasted garlic (I mashed mine with a fork), cider vinegar, lemon juice, seasonings, and 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar. This makes the jam a deep brownish-gold color; if you want a lighter color, use white balsamic vinegar instead of the regular stuff. I put in a couple strong pinches of salt too, as a flavor enhancer. I set the heat to high, then stirred and stirred. No scorching allowed! I added the sugar and Stevia and kept stirring slowly. I wanted a strong, rolling boil. After the mix has boiled for 2-3 minutes, I added 3 tablespoons of powdered, no-sugar-needed pectin to the mix. To prevent clumping, I mixed the pectin into 1/3 cup of sugar first, then dusted it across the top of the boiling jelly while stirring.

After a minute more of boiling, I took the jelly pot from the heat and grabbed jars from the oven. A quick fill to the recommended level, covering with pre-softened flats, then spinning on the rings (lightly finger-tight only, of course), I processed the jars in the canner for 10 minutes. I took the hot jars from the canner and let cool completely. (If any jars should fail to seal, simply store that jam in the refrigerator; it’ll be good for a couple of months.) I got seven half-pints from this batch, plus a bit in a bowl for snacking. Great on Triscuits.

We used some of the fresh-made jelly on a pork roast, as cooking sauce and glaze. Scrumptious! Jess tried to sneak off with the rest of the lot, but I saved back a couple. At least I think I managed to hide them well enough; hmm, maybe I should go check…

Enjoy the (Allium’s Well That Ends Well) Heat!

Entries in this series:
  1. Red Pepper Jelly Sunday
  2. Pepper Jelly Update: Anybody Got a Gas Mask I Can Borrow?
  3. Tag-Team Teaching in the Kitchen
  4. Lemon Ginger Marmalade, an Easy Spread to Make
  5. Yellow Inferno for Breakfast: Caribé-Habañero Pepper Jelly
  6. Lemony-Hot Jam, a Hybrid Spread With a Slow Burn
  7. Hatch Chiles and Lime, a Great Combo for Jam
  8. Jessica, Your Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly is Ready
  9. Hunting the Wild Prickly Pear in South Texas
  10. Prickly Pear Jelly Redux: Juice, Juice Everywhere…
  11. Charred Pineapple, Habañeros and Bourbon, a Great Jam Combo
  12. How to Push Prickly Pear Jelly Over the Top With Serrano Chiles
  13. Not Your Momma’s Marmalade
  14. A Jam That’s Just Plum Good…
  15. Peaches O’ Eight Jam, the Perfect Pirate Toast Topping
  16. Saint Basil’s Green; It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore
  17. Pepper Jelly Redux: Apricot Jam, Extra-Zesty Habañero and Serrano Jellies
  18. Pepper Jelly Sweetened with Stevia: It’s a Hit!
  19. Gardens, Gators, and Green Pepper Jelly
  20. Do Hairless Peaches Make Great Jam? You Betcha…
  21. Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Onion Jam
  22. Cinnamon Plus Heat Equals Magic
  23. March Madness, With Mangos…
  24. StingJam, a New Variety of Pepper Jelly
  25. Butter and Scotch? Not Quite; But a Great Jelly Nonetheless…
  26. White Flesh Peach Zingjam, a Refreshing Topping
  27. More Summertime Fruit Pepper Jellies
  28. Holiday Marmalade with Habaneros and Prickly Pear Juice
  29. Pepper Jelly Makes a Great Christmas Present
  30. Cherry Season is Here, and Cherry Pepper Jellies are Great
  31. Pepper Jellies and the Manzano Chile
  32. Singapore Sling Pepper Jelly! Now You Can Drink Your Toast…
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Do Hairless Peaches Make Great Jam? You Betcha…

This entry is part of a series, Pepper Jelly Chronicles»

Nectarines

I’ve made peach pepper jelly in the past, and that was a very good batch. Didn’t last long! I’ve made jelly using plums too, and that was a bit more of a chore, as the stones don’t separate easily from the flesh. Still, it wasn’t a terrible chore, and the product was excellent.

Which got me to wondering about nectarines. After all, they’re related to peaches (and cherries and plums), though their flavor is distinct. At least to me.

The grocery store had nectarines on special recently, and they looked beautiful. Firm, unblemished, and colorful, and at an attractive price. I scooped up three pounds or so, then hurried home and set up for a jelly-making session.

Getting the flesh off the stones was the only real chore. I used my wide-bladed ceramic knife and that did the job nicely. I processed the fruit with some habaneros and a yellow bell pepper, and the mixture cooked readily into a nice jelly. I added a few spices (ground cloves, cinnamon, allspice, etc.) and canned as per usual. I used lemon juice as the acid source for this batch, rather than cider vinegar, more for variation than out of any concern about taste. I also used my standard recipe for lower-sugar jelly.

The whole batch was gone in less than a week. And the Underground groupies fans are clamoring for more. Unfortunately, the special on nectarines has ended at my supermarket, and I haven’t seen any for sale at other stores I frequent. It’s a government conspiracy shame, as I’d like to have a jar or two on the shelf…

Enjoy the (Slick Fruit) Heat!

Entries in this series:
  1. Red Pepper Jelly Sunday
  2. Pepper Jelly Update: Anybody Got a Gas Mask I Can Borrow?
  3. Tag-Team Teaching in the Kitchen
  4. Lemon Ginger Marmalade, an Easy Spread to Make
  5. Yellow Inferno for Breakfast: Caribé-Habañero Pepper Jelly
  6. Lemony-Hot Jam, a Hybrid Spread With a Slow Burn
  7. Hatch Chiles and Lime, a Great Combo for Jam
  8. Jessica, Your Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly is Ready
  9. Hunting the Wild Prickly Pear in South Texas
  10. Prickly Pear Jelly Redux: Juice, Juice Everywhere…
  11. Charred Pineapple, Habañeros and Bourbon, a Great Jam Combo
  12. How to Push Prickly Pear Jelly Over the Top With Serrano Chiles
  13. Not Your Momma’s Marmalade
  14. A Jam That’s Just Plum Good…
  15. Peaches O’ Eight Jam, the Perfect Pirate Toast Topping
  16. Saint Basil’s Green; It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore
  17. Pepper Jelly Redux: Apricot Jam, Extra-Zesty Habañero and Serrano Jellies
  18. Pepper Jelly Sweetened with Stevia: It’s a Hit!
  19. Gardens, Gators, and Green Pepper Jelly
  20. Do Hairless Peaches Make Great Jam? You Betcha…
  21. Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Onion Jam
  22. Cinnamon Plus Heat Equals Magic
  23. March Madness, With Mangos…
  24. StingJam, a New Variety of Pepper Jelly
  25. Butter and Scotch? Not Quite; But a Great Jelly Nonetheless…
  26. White Flesh Peach Zingjam, a Refreshing Topping
  27. More Summertime Fruit Pepper Jellies
  28. Holiday Marmalade with Habaneros and Prickly Pear Juice
  29. Pepper Jelly Makes a Great Christmas Present
  30. Cherry Season is Here, and Cherry Pepper Jellies are Great
  31. Pepper Jellies and the Manzano Chile
  32. Singapore Sling Pepper Jelly! Now You Can Drink Your Toast…
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Happy New Year! Let’s Make 2013 Special…

Omelets

Here’s a great way to start the New Year: Visiting relatives-to-be and messing up their kitchen before going home

We trekked off to Florida over the weekend, to be with Kai’s family in sunny Florida. We arrived on Sunday, then picked Jess and Kai up in Tampa the next afternoon. No sooner had we gotten over into St. Petersburg than it was time to stroll downtown for First Night revelry.

What a clambake!

Dancing. Singing. Dining, both fine and fair-booth style. Fireworks (twice). Drinking. More singing. And Twister, on a mat about the size of a mall parking lot. There must have been a hundred kids on that mat, with a full-voiced bingo-caller yelling out colors and appendages. And the mat wasn’t even half-full! Oh, and the opera was in session (did I mention singing?), and the Museum of Fine Arts was open, and on and on.

It was fun. It was tiring. And the evening’s weather was very cooperative.

We finished the evening with gelatos and an accordion serenade (thanks, Nick, wherever you are). Although the evening was young (it wasn’t midnight), we called it a day and returned to the Sheppard domicile for last drinks and some extreme puzzle-solving.

This morning we made omelets with bacon, cheese, sweet peppers, onions and mushrooms (picture above; thanks, Kari!). It was more like brunch than breakfast, and by the time we got done it was elevenses. It was all good, as you can see. Too bad you couldn’t have been here.

Here’s hoping your year got off to an equally great start, and gets better as it goes along…

Enjoy the (New Year’s Revelry) Heat!

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NaNo’s Over, and Boy Am I Glad

Napping After NaNo

It was fun. It was challenging. It was exhausting. It was almost enough to give one a drinking habit. And it’s finally over…

NaNoWriMo 2012 was a very long, and all to short, event. Somehow, getting 350,000 people around the world to write novels causes time to jerk and run, to pause and twist, in ways that ol’ uncle Albert never predicted when he invented Relativity. Hour after hour, passing like molasses, words accumulated in my electronic files. Then suddenly the day would be over and I had to grab a little shut-eye.

The dreams at night helped me plan the next day. Either that, or they would show me wandering through endless cubicles of madly typing monkeys, all trying to get Shakespeare and Faulkner and Christie completed by the end of the month. And you thought you had nightmares.

All through it, though, I never felt panic. Either that, or I was so overwrought that it became the norm and I could function anyway. Provided you allow for a very generous definition of “function.” I do remember doing the laundry once, so I could have NaNoWriMo winner t-shirts to wear that didn’t exude a fragrance that caused the cats to seek shelter in other parts of the house. I vaguely recall heating some stuff in the microwave; I wonder if there’s stuff still in there.

Now to get back to writing about food, and travel, and gardening, all those wonderful topics I’ve been distracted from for so long…

Enjoy the (Back to the Grinding) Heat!

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Hot Bytes for 2012-11-08

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A Great Beef Ribs Recipe From Gourmet Holiday Edition

Beef Ribs

I know, it’s early for some of you to be thinking of the Holidays; bear with me…

Turkey is the standard for Thanksgiving, with ham a solid second place. But what if you want something different? Something with a little zing to it? Well, have we got a deal for you!

Actually, it’s Gourmet Magazine who has the deal. In their recently-released Holiday Special Edition. (I snagged mine at Central Market over the weekend.) It didn’t take me long to find this recipe…

Braised Chile-Spiced Short Ribs with Black Beans

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound dried black beans
  • 3-4 medium dried ancho chiles
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped canned chipotles (in adobo), plus a tablespoon of the adobo sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons molasses (not robust or blackstrap)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 10 cups water (and a bit more), divided
  • salt
  • 5 pounds beef short ribs
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ¼ pound sliced bacon, chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick, 3” long
  • 1 Turkish bay leaf
  • Chopped red onion, for garnish
  • Chopped cilantro, for garnish

Quick-soak the black beans by placing them in a 5-quart heavy pot with enough water to cover by 2 inches. bring to a boil, boil for a couple of minutes, then remove from heat. Cover and let stand for an hour.

Ancho

Meanwhile, make the ancho chile purée: Wipe the chiles, then pull out the stems and seeds. Reach in, remove the ribs (if you like), then tear the chiles into pieces. Soak in the boiling water until softened, about 20 minutes. Transfer chile pieces to a blender, reserving the soak liquid. Add onion, garlic, chipotles and sauce, tomato paste, molasses, cumin seeds, cloves, a third cup of water and a teaspoon of salt to blender; purée.

Pat the ribs dry, then season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy, oven-proof, 8-quart pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Brown ribs in small batches on all sides; transfer to a holding plate. Discard oil in pot at the end.

Heat the oven to 350° F; put rack to the middle position. Brown the bacon in the 8-quart pot, then remove bacon with slotted spoon and discard. Just kidding! Add the cooked bacon to the ribs. Carefully stir the ancho chile purée into the fat in the pot; it may spatter! Cook the sauce for about 6 minutes with frequent stirring. Add the reserved chile-soak liquid and two cups of water. Add the cinnamon stick and bring to a boil. Add ribs and bacon back to the pot and braise, covered, in the oven until the ribs are very tender. Cooking time will be about 3 hours, maybe a bit more.

While the ribs are braising, cook the beans: Drain them after they’ve soaked, then return to the soak-pot and add 8 cups fresh water. Add the bay leaf and a half teaspoon of salt, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the beans are tender. This can take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, depending on the beans.

To serve, transfer ribs to a decorative plate and garnish. Serve with small soup bowls of beans on the side.

These items can be made up to three days ahead, so that Thanksgiving isn’t so hectic. Cover and refrigerate the ribs in their sauce, after removing excess grease. Refrigerate the beans in their liquid. Reheat the ribs in the oven, and the beans on the range.

This looks so scrumptious I’m going to try it long before Turkey Day. I may use a bit more chipotle than the recipe calls for as well. And the beans? Well, I’m not likely to leave them alone either…

Enjoy the (Who Needs Turkey) Heat!

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Breaking News: Pfall ChiliPfest Tomorrow!

Cookoff Pot

For both the Underground fans all you thousands of readers from Pflugerville, get your hongry on! The 2012 Pfall ChiliPfest is tomorrow, in beautiful, downtown Pflugerville. The kickoff is at 11 A.M., though there will be a community fitness walk starting at 10:30 (to help build up that appetite even further). The weather prediction’s great too, so block out the whole day.

There will be a big ol’ raffle, door prizes (without doors!), and a really cool Classic Car and Hot Rod Show. Live music, a washer-tossing tournament (and what chili festival would be complete without THAT one, I ask you), and a great area of games and fun for the kids.

Oh, and there’ll be chili. Lots and lots of chili. Cooking will start early, and the public will be served samples starting about noon. Don’t come late, there won’t be that much extra, just a few gallons from each team! I’m giving you fair warning, I’ll be there, as will all the Underground’s Elves. (If that doesn’t scare you, you’re comatose.)

Chili

Celebrity judges will include Jeff Coleman, the mayor; James Aiken, the school district site coordinator; and Greg Miller of the Round Rock Express. Fire and police, Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce; they’ll all be eating chili like there’s no tomorrow. (Oh, that’s right; no chili on Sunday; I guess there really is no tomorrow, in that sense.)

So maybe you’re thinking, how big a deal can this be, anyway? Maybe I’ll just skip it? Well, before you do that, I’ve got to let you know, this even is part of the Chili Appreciation Society International panel of events! These are the same folks who bring us the Terlingua International Chili Championships. Every year!

It just doesn’t get much bigger than that. Besides, won’t it be nice to be able to tell your grandkids “Why, I remember when…”

Turn Up the (Pfantastic ChiliPfest) Heat!

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