Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pickling your own Jalapeno Peppers

© 2011 by Tom King
Recipe Courtesy of Texas A&M Horticulture Agri-Life Extension: Peppers

What could be cooler than whipping out a Mason jar full of your own home-made jalapenos next time you’re having nachos at the house?  It’s not hard to do with the proper preparation.  You can buy raw jalapenos at the grocery store or you can grow your own. If you get good at growing them, you can even adjust the way you water and fertilize your peppers and vary the times when you harvest them to alter the flavor and hotness to create you own custom jalapeno peppers.
Capsaicin is the chemical in peppers that gives the pepper heat. Capsaicin has no taste or smell, so if flavor is all you’re after, growing a mild pepper will not affect the taste in the least. The hotness of jalapenos is mostly about macho posturing anyway. I have a hard time believing that having a numb tongue after you eat anything is truly a pleasurable experience.
At any rate, the typical chili pepper usually contains more capsaicin at the top of the pepper than at the bottom. Slices taken near the stem are generally very hot.  Near the middle the pepper slices will be about medium and near the lower tip they’ll be relatively mild – all on the same pepper.
If you’d like to make separate jars of hot and mild peppers, you can always cut the jalapenos in two and bottle the tops and bottoms separately.  Don’t forget to label them as some folk react rather badly to fiery hot jalapenos when you told them they were "really mild". Remember, you’ll be in a kitchen with all sorts of sharp knives and heavy blunt objects, so make sure the jars are labeled correctly.

Here’s how Texas A&M recommends pickling your peck of pickled peppers.
1.  Pick a peck of unpickled peppers - jalapeno type

2.  Using fresh Jalapeno peppers, blanch the peppers for 3 minutes in boiling water. To prevent collapsing, puncture each pepper or cut them in half first and separate the hotter top section from the milder lower half. Slice the blanched peppers and pack a pint jar with them and the ingredients below before cooling occurs.

  • 1/4 medium-sized garlic clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon of onion flakes
  • 1 small or medium bay leaf
  • 1/8 teaspoon of ground oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon of thyme leaf (not seed)
  • 1/8 teaspoon of marjoram
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (olive, refined sesame, corn)  
3.  Create a brine solution as follows:
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 9 tablespoons salt
  • 2 pints water
  • 2 pints vinegar (5 percent)
4.  Mix ingredients together and pour into your jars over the top of the peppers and spices. The jalapenos must be hot when the brine solution is added. The addition of carrot slices adds color to the product. If you’re a guy, don’t tell anyone you added the carrots for color. It sounds kind of girly. Make up something like, “It's an old range cook's trick I learned. The carrots absorb the bitter aftertaste left by the bay leaves.”  Stick to something plausible and manly like that. Jalapenos are enough of a guy thing to get you past the part where you're canning stuff like your grandmother, but not if you start adding junk to make the food colorful. 

5.  Close the containers and set them for 10 minutes in boiling water, screw on the lids, then cool the jars. As the jars cool, a partial vacuum will be created inside, sealing the jars. When cool they can be stored in the pantry unrefrigerated. Refrigerate your peppers after the jar is initially opened.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Super Simple Canoe Garage Hoist

Here's a simple way to hang a canoe in your garage.

1. Screw 4 screw eyes to the ceiling joists above where you want to hang the canoe. Space each pair of eyes about two to three feet apart and each pair should be directly over the the thwarts nearest the ends of the canoe as shown.  Screw a pair of flag cleats to the wall near the front and rear eyes for tying off the ropes.

2.  Tie a large hook and eye to the ends of four 16-foot long half-inch nylon ropes or climbing ropes.

3.  Hook the first pair of hooks just behind the canoe's front thwart toward the center.

4.  Pull the two ropes together to raise the front of the canoe about halfway to the ceiling and tie the ropes off.

5.  Now, hook the aft section of the canoe aft of the rear thwarts on either side of the hull just behind the thwarts toward the center. Lift the rear of the canoe all the way to the ceiling and tie it off.

6.  Now raise the forward section of the boat till it's even with the aft section and tie the ropes off.

7.  Reverse the process to lower it. Resist the urge to drop or raise the first end all the way to the ceiling or floor as it can slip from the hooks and hurt you. It's even safer if you work with two people at once and raise or lower the ends of the canoe together.

(c) 2011 by Tom King

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

King Ranch Chicken - Regular & Vegetarian Versions

Tex-Mex at its best…

Great holiday or potluck dish!
I had trouble finding this recipe in our cookbooks after the move. I've taken on the role of regular chef in our newly blended household and decided to make some things I like, since I have kitchen duty. One of the advantages of being the family cook is that you get to make things you like and if anybody complains, you can just whip off your apron and hand it to them. You'd be surprised how few takers you get. One of the disadvantages, of course, is you have to clean up afterward, but if you're a good enough cook, the womenfolk feel guilty and will clean up for you. Secretly, even women, who are completely fed up with cooking, feel proprietary about "their" kitchens and will never fully relinquish control to a mere man. I, apparently, have never fully mastered the art of proper dish cleaning and putting things away where they belong. The ladies throw me out of the kitchen in frustration ever once in a while, make a fabulous meal to show me who's boss and do a really thorough and proper cleanup.

Boy do I ever learn my lesson when they do that!

King Ranch Chicken is a fantastic chicken dish, not too spicy the way we make it, but with plenty of Tex-Mex flavor. It's named after the famous King Ranch in south Texas which takes up an entire county south of Corpus Christi and upon which the movie "Giant" was based.  My wife reconstructed this dish for me the other day from memory. Her version is wonderful and she walked me through the preparation. It was all kind of delicious.  Wish you could have been there. 

Since you weren’t, I’m going to tell you how it was made so you can make it yourself and give your family a real treat.  This is one of those dishes, guys, that you can make one of your specialties on nights you’ve got kitchen duty. Plenty of manly chopping and dicing to preserve your image and if you make it, your wife can’t skimp on the cheese.

Cutting board
Sharp knife
Large casserole dish or baking pan
Electric skillet

  • 4 large chicken breasts or 2 boxes of Morningstar Farms Vegetarian Chicken Patties or 2 cans of Loma Linda or Worthington brand vegetarian chicken
  • 2 cans mushroom soup
  • 1 can Rotel ™ tomatoes and green chilies (mild to hot – your choice)
  • 8 oz. Shredded cheddar cheese
  • ¼ block Velveeta ™ cheese, diced small
  • Small onion – chopped
  • Bell pepper – chopped
  • Small jar of jalapeno slices
  • 15 corn tortillas
  • Sour cream
  • Small can sliced black olives (optional)
  • Olive oil
  1. Boil or cook the chicken in the microwave, drain it and dice into small cubes. If making the vegetarian version, simply dice the vege-chicken pieces into small cubes.
  2. Sautee the chopped onion and bell pepper in a little oil in the electric skillet. I prefer olive oil because it’s a healthier fat, but any oil will do.  Dice up a few jalapeno slices and toss them into the oil.  I only put a palmful of small pieces into this recipe - enough to lightly flavor it without adding a lot of heat or a nasty surprise for those with tender tongues.
  3. When the onion, jalapeno and bell pepper are done, pour in the 2 cans of soup and the can of Rotel ™. Any tomatoes and green chilies will do. I like the mild Rotel for the sake of the children.  Otherwise this dish can get a bit fiery. 
  4. Stir in the chicken pieces and heat the mixture till it begins to bubble. Then turn off the skillet.
  5. Chop the tortillas into strips.
  6. Lay down a layer of tortilla strips in the bottom of the casserole dish.
  7. Spread a layer of diced Velveeta ™ evenly over the tortillas about an inch or two apart, then cover with a layer of soup/chicken/veggies mix – not too thick.  You can sprinkle on a layer of black olives if you want them at this point.
  8. Repeat one more time with tortillas, Velveeta, chicken mix and olives (optional).
  9. Sprinkle grated cheddar cheese over the top to give it a finished look and because I like a lot of cheese.  You can also add a few optional jalapenos and black olives to make it pretty. Spread out the jalapenos so the wimpy people with tender tongues can find them easily and pick them off.
  10. Cover the casserole dish and bake in the oven at 350 degrees till the cheese on top is thoroughly melted and the whole thing begins to bubble at the sides.  Turn off the oven and let it set there till you have the rest of the meal set out.
A couple of dollops of sour cream on this after you take it out makes a really tasty garnish with maybe a little sprinkling of cilantro.  This dish goes really well with a nice green salad, Ranch dressing and a few tortilla chip strips for garnish, iced tea and a big bowl of sweet corn.  You don’t need a bread with this because of the tortillas in the casserole.  This recipe serves about six people or four typical Texans. I like to bring out the Fiesta-ware to serve this meal on because anytime you make King Ranch casserole, it's a Fiesta!. If you don't have any Fiesta-ware, I highly recommend you scoot by Marshall Pottery in Marshall, Texas and get you some plates and saucers and stuff that are just like the original Fiesta-ware my grandmother used to serve us meals on when I was a kid. King Ranch casserole just screams for those colorful Fiesta-ware plates.

The other nice thing about this recipe is that it's easy to stretch - very forgiving of variations in ingredients. You can add more chicken and veggies, another can of soup or more cheese to stretch it out for a family gathering or potluck at church. You're really going to like this Texas treat.

Tom King - 2011

Here's my version!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pickin' and Freezin'

What to do with all those blackberries..
(c) 2011 by Tom King

The wild blackberries up here in Washington are something to behold. Big fat juicy things, just right for making home-made blackberry cobbler.  Only thing is they don't know how to make Bluebell Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream (TM) to go on 'em. When I go back to Texas to get my truck, I may have to fill it up with Bluebell and some dry ice. No sense letting all these blackberries go to waste.
When I was a kid my mama used to drag us all out onto the backroads around Keene, Texas to pick blackberries. We'd pick blackberries till we could close our eyes and see blackberries on the inside of our eyelids. I had pornographic dreams about blackberries.  My sister loves to tell how Mom forced us to pick blackberries in oppressive heat. To hear her tell it there were whips and chains and Mom held us at gunpoint. Every time she tells the story, the temperature rises five degrees or so.

Here in balmy Washington, they're having an 82 degree heat wave which has discouraged the Washingtonians from braving the blazing heat for something as mundane as picking berries. So.....................THEY'RE ALL MINE...BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

And beautiful they are. I set out this morning to go berry picking armed with all the things you need to do it properly. Basket, pointy walking stick, faithful dog and ten pounds of camera and tripod slung awkwardly over my shoulder so I could photograph the thing because I can't talk any of these people up here into going with me. It's like the Little Red Hen.  "Not I," quacked the duck.

So, off we went on our own. Don't worry, unlike the Red Hen, I do share my berries with the old and infirm folk that live in my house and are too stove up from moving to pick berries!

Oh, well, it's a balmy late summer day and the berries are fat and easy pickin'.  You can see in these pictures how the vines hang low out over the fences and close to the roadside. I use my stick to pull down the big clusters from up high. In Texas I'd have the stick for dealing with timber rattlers, cottonmouths and copperheads, but up here I'm told they have no snakes. I don't fully trust them on that one yet, so I take the stick.  

The berry vines are beside a dirt road, so the berries are covered with dust. That's okay because they'll wash off nicely and the dust disguises my favorite berry bushes from marauding neighbors. Did I mention, "THEY"RE ALL MINE...BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

The basket rapidly fills. If I drop a berry, I don't bother to pick it up. It's easier just to pull another one off the vines. There are some berries that look like blueberries, but I'm not sure so I leave them for another time when I can take my field guide to Yankee edible wild berries with me to make sure. I'd hate to be poisoned by some toxic Northern species like gasping deathberry or choke-you-to-death cherries, so I'll stick with blackberries which, thanks to Mom, I know all about.

I wish I had brought along a ladder. There were some beauties up high that I just had to leave hanging. Shortly after this picture was taken, I toppled into the thorny vines. I'm sure it was quite entertaining, and I wish I had a video for America's Funniest Videos, but as I missed it the first time and not wanting to repeat it for the cameras (even for the $10,000), you'll just have to use your own twisted imaginations.

Home again we go with our prize. Daisy is bored to tears with berry picking. We didn't disturb a single rabbit today, so she's chalking this one up in the "lose" column. Might as well go home and take a nap.  We set the basket out on the counter with the things we'll need to prepare our berries for the freezer.

You can preserve them or make them into jelly or something, but that's a bit more work than I'm interested in doing now. Besides, you can always thaw the berries out later to make jelly or preserves if you want to. For now I need the following:
  • Basket o' Fruit
  • Two gallon-size Ziplock Freezer bags
  • Large Colander
  • Wire Basket

Step 1
Scoop out some berries into the wire basket. Fill it less than half full to allow room for the water to flush away stems and leaves and stuff. Rinse thoroughly with water while tossing the berries gently.

Step 2
Dump the washed berries into the colander. Repeat until you've washed all the berries. Unless the berries are exposed to something particularly filthy, washing them should be all you need to do to get them clean. If it would make you feel better, you could always pour boiling water over them to flush away any germs or crud, but it's probably not necessary. (at this point my lawyer says that if you take my lame-brained advice and die of botulism, I should warn you that taking my advice on this is purely at your own risk and if you do die of botulism, it's not my fault and you can't sue me - just so you know).

Step 3
Let the berries dry out in the colander for a couple of hours. If the berries are really wet, they'll stick together when they freeze.  If you dry them good, then they freeze like a bag of bumpy little marbles and are easier to scoop out to use in your cereal or to measure for a berry cobbler.

Step 4
Scoop the dry berries into a dry Ziplock storage bag, push out any excess air, lay the bag flat so there's only one or two layers of berries in the bag, then zip it up.

Step 5
Lay the bag flat in the freezer until all of the berries are frozen hard. If you set the bag upright, the berries may compact and freeze in a solid block which is a pain when you go to use them. Once they are frozen you can store them upright if you want to.

Now do that every day for the two to three weeks of berry picking season and you'll have enough to make cobblers all winter long. Now if I can just buy the Bluebell Ice Cream franchise up here in Washington, I'll not only have a freezer full of berries, but I'll be independently wealthy too!

Tom & Daisy, Puyallup, Washington

The Industrial Strength Doggie Pee Pee Place

In my last entry I suggested building a special place for your dog to relieve itself. My brother-in-law read the article and got inspired.

First let me tell you about Rick.  He's kind of a cross between Hank Hill and Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor. He has this thing about doing things "right".  Now I was thinking I'd knock together something out of drywall screws and one-by-sixes, but Rick had other ideas.

We bought:

  • 1 two-by-twelve treated redwood board cut into four 3-foot long pieces by the good folk at Home Depot.  
  • 8 quarter inch steel lag bolts - 5 inches long
  • 2 Bags pine bark mulch
  • Total cost - $30.03

Next, he got out the drill and drilled pilot holes for the two quarter inch bolts.  You can see in this picture how the ends went together.  The holes were drilled through the side of one board and into the end of the other to which it was to be joined at a 90 degree angle.  Then, he lag bolted the ends together to make a big open square. The finished box was laid down on the grass in a spot that looked about right and we dumped a bag and a half of wood chips into it. The high levels of nitrogen in dog urine will break down the wood chips and compost them over time.  All we have to do is add a little more every few months. Should be able to spread the compost over the yard or add it to a real compost pile to make garden soil.  In the meantime, if we can train the dog to use it, the box should reduce the burn marks on the lawn.

All together the finished box looks like this:

So far we've had trouble getting Daisy to use it. I think she is reluctant because the thing looks like a flowerbed and we don't let her poop in those. I've resorted to taking her out beside the road in the morning with a paper towel and Ziplock bag.  I soak up her urine, put it in the bag and then squeeze it out over the pee pee box to scent the box.  She's shown a wee bit more interest since I started doing that, but I'm a little afraid I'm going to have to start following the neighbor's pit bull around for a sample of his before she'll use it. Now she won't use the grass in the yard either, so I have to take her down the road to where there is unsodded soil before she will loosen up and urinate. Oh, well, it gives me one more blog entry in the on-going Dog Pee Burn saga. 

More to come....

Bet you can hardly wait.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Dog Pee Burns in Your Newly Sodded Lawn

I've Got Good News and Bad News
by Tom King © 2011

Miss Sheila, Daisy and I (and Justin, Rick, Sue, Mr. Muggs and the 4 cats) all just moved into a beautiful new home we're sharing in Puyallup, Washington here in the shadow of Mt. Ranier. One of the more exciting things for me about the move (other than living under an active volcano) is the fact that we have store-bought grass!

I grew up poor in Texas and have never in my life had a laid out lawn. The sod crew came in one day, spread some topsoil and laid out our lawn like a carpet. I'm thinkin', “Yee-haw, buddy. This is great.”

Now, I'm not entirely new to sod. Back in Texas we laid out squares of St. Augustine grass to try to encourage a lawn to grow under our big oak trees and sweetgums - usually to no effect. And we did lay out some centipede sod squares and plant some seed at the Lake Palestine house. The landlord had, a few years earlier, given up on having a lawn and was going to cover the (large) front yard with white gravel. He got as far as spraying it all with weed killer and then found out what that much white gravel cost. We fertilized, brought in dirt and as much sod as we could afford, planted seed and watered and managed to get a good covering of green. That said, I've never had an entirely store-bought lawn before. One day it was dirt and gravel and the next it was genuine mowable grass.

Dogs can crater a new yard in no time at all.
Then to my horror, yellow spots began to appear in the pristine green surface; first in the front yard where the neighbor's pit bill insists on marking his territory and then in the back where Miss Daisy, our half lab/half border collie and Muggs the chihuaha do their “bidness”.

Surely,” I thought, “There must be something you can put on the pee spots to neutralize the acid or whatever is that burns the grass.”

Turns out there's not. The thing that causes the yellow burns on your grass is urea, a nitrogen rich substance excreted by dogs in urine – not the acid in the urine. Females, particularly cause these burns because of the way they pee. Males scatter urine over a larger area or pee on posts, fire hydrants and trees so their urine is diluted. Females squat in one place and tend to dump their pee all at once. *I make no editorial comment regarding this behavior in dogs nor intend to extrapolate any meaning positive or negative toward females of any other species.

You can see the dark green circle developing around the ring.
Urea in the dog's urine dumps a huge dose of nitrogen on the grass and burns the plants, especially in new sod. Because different types of grass have different needs for minerals, some lawns are especially vulnerable to nitrogen burn. You'll notice that along the fringes of the area burned, you'll see a ring of lush green grass, fertilized by the lower levels of nitrogen in the soil along the edges of the burn.

Burn spots are particularly common if your lawn is sodded with one of those lush Northern varieties of grass. These are more delicate-natured grasses and don't handle high temperatures and strong substances well. In the South, temperatures march along in the 100s for months at a time. Our Southern grasses welcome any moisture that comes their way and since the grass looks dead in the summer anyway, you wouldn't likely notice pee spots if a St. Bernard, three coon dogs,a half-dozen Rottweiler's and a Tyrannosaurus Rex designated your front yard as the neighborhood's public toilet.

Partially recovered dog burn spots with thick rings.
There is currently, no substance you can make or buy that you can dump on nitrogen to neutralize it. Nitrogen is a basic element and there's not a lot you can do about it if you get too much of it in your soil. Pouring on brewer's yeast and sugar are of virtually no value. Feeding your dog tomato juice won't get rid of the nitrogen in her pee either, though you might catch her swiping Vodka from the liquor cabinet if she gets used to the flavor.

Painful as it is to tell you, there are only four things you can do to prevent dog pee burns on your lawn. None is easy. None is convenient.

  1. Follow the dog out to pee with a big gallon can of water. Pour the water on the pee spot. This dilutes the nitrogen. Do this consistently and you'll actually have a lot of very green circles on your lawn since nitrogen is a fertilizer. If you miss one, you'll get a yellow burn spot every time. After the grass is burned, it's too late to dilute the spot. All you can do is add some dirt and grass seed or fresh sod and water it well.
  2. Train the dog to pee in a special spot. This is going to be like house-breaking all over again. Create a pee pee spot by marking an area of your yard with some sort of border and fill it with wood chips and other organic compost. The powerful urea in the dog's urine will actually break down the organic material in the pee pee place and accelerate the composting process.
  3. Give the dog away. If all this is too much of a pain in the tookhas, you'll just have to get rid of the dog, because dogs will pee and dog pee WILL burn your lawn, especially if you have that wimpy Yankee kind of grass. It comes down to the grass or the hound if you're congenitally lazy..
  4. Tell your neighbor's you bought a yellow polka dotted lawn on purpose. “It's the latest thing,” you'll tell them. “It's from, uh, France. Yeah, that's the ticket. …Paris, France!”