Monday, December 16, 2013

Hacking a Soap Dispenser

When we were picking out faucets for our house, we found one that I really liked (Kyle wasn't such a fan, but it's grown on him) but it came with a soap dispenser.  We had one hole to cut for the faucet and one whole for the filtered water tap, so we weren't terribly excited about cutting a third hole for a soap dispenser.  The pieces for the soap dispenser sat in a cupboard waiting for whatever we decided to do with them.

I had seen quite a few tutorials for making a mason jar soap dispenser, and it didn't seem very difficult.  The hardest parts were probably cutting the lid of the mason jar to accept the soap dispenser pump, and figuring out where to cut the pump pieces themselves to make them fit in the size of mason jar we wanted to use (which was a pint jar).

This pump isn't the same one that I have, but it shows the parts  clearly.  For our pump we had to cut the majority of the threaded piece off.  That is what stretches between your counter top, down to the plastic soap holder below (we didn't need that part, since our soap holder was going to be the pint jar).

To punch the hole in the top of the mason jar lid, use a hammer and chisel.  Also use a block of scrap wood to protect your work surface.  Use a marker to trace the size of hole you need, then punch your way around.  Be careful not to cut yourself.  

Spray paint your lid and ring to match the color of your soap dispenser.  We were lucky to have leftover oil rubbed bronze spray paint from another project.  I used two coats.

Cut the straw to length.  You want it to be cut on an angle so that the bottom tip hits the bottom of the jar.  This will allow it to get the last of the soap out (if you don't refill sooner).  If it doesn't go to the bottom, you will always have a little bit of soap at the bottom of your jar that never gets used.  

When the paint is dry, you can put everything together.  My soap dispenser came with a piece that screwed into the top from below the mason jar lid.  If yours doesn't, you'll need to break out the glue gun to glue the lid to your pump.  Then fill your jar with soap, place the ring over the top and screw it all together.

Also, take note that if you use two different kinds of soaps, they don't really mix together.  :)

Monday, November 25, 2013

How to make the best pie crust ever.

In a mixing bowl, add 2lbs (about 8 cups, if you don't have a scale) of flour.  Half white flour, half whole-wheat. Add 1 TBSP of salt and mix.

Roughly chop up 1 lb of lard.  Yes lard.  It makes better crust than butter or crisco.

Add the lard chunks a few pieces at a time to the flour/salt.  I put my shield on for this since the lard pieces tend to make flour shoot up out of the bowl.

Mix until you get the consistency of "peas and cornmeal".

Add 20 TBSP of cold water.  (1 1/4 cups)  Mix for a few seconds.

Dump the dough onto a clean surface and form into a wheel.

Plastic wrap is better, but I didn't have any.  Wrap up the wheel.

Put it in a bag, get as much air out as you can, and put in the fridge.  Let it sit at least 24 hours.  I made my crust on a Monday, and will roll it out for pies on Wednesday.  Letting it sit makes for a very forgiving, easy to work crust.  

When you're ready to use it, take it out, cut it into 8 pie wedges.  Each wedge can be formed into a wheel when you're ready for it, then rolled out.  Keep the other pieces covered while you work with one to keep them from drying out.

Here's the recipe in an easier-to-print format…

Perfect Pie Crust

From Reclaiming my Inner Pioneer at

2lbs (8 cups) of flour.  Half white, half whole wheat.
1 lb Lard
1 TBSP salt
20 TBSP (1 1/4 cup) cold water

  1. Mix flours and salt.  
  2. Roughly chop lard and add piece by piece to the flour mixture.  
  3. Mix until you have the texture of peas and cornmeal. 
  4. Add water and mix for a few seconds.
  5. Form into a wheel and place in plastic airtight bag in the fridge for at least 24 hours. 
Makes 8 single crust or 4 double crust pies (or whatever combination adds up to 8 single crusts).

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

What do I do with 80 pounds of chicken?

For the last several years, I tried really hard to only buy farm-raised meat.  After watching a few too many documentaries highlighting to horrible conditions of factory farmed meat, I was done.

In practice, what has happened is that we've pretty much stopped eating chicken, aside from the occasional cheat with a costco rotisserie chicken.  We tried raising our own meat birds, and buying them from a local-ish farm.  But in the end, they always ended up being so expensive that we just couldn't afford to eat chicken very often.

I'm giving up.  At least for now.  After reading several positive reviews of Zaycon Foods, I decided to give them a try, and ordered two cases of chicken.

I picked up my chicken today and got to work.  This morning I made sure to set out all my supplies.  Clean jars (with lids and rings ready to go), trays and wax paper for freezing individual breasts (then I'll put them all in gallon sized freezer bags), a cutting board and scissors and a knife.  I also had a big bowl for scraps, and disinfectant wipes for just in case.  I also put 1/2 cup or so of water into each quart jar.  I've read instructions that say to top off the jars with water after, and instructions that say that chicken creates it's own liquid so adding water is unnecessary, and I've read that the chicken doesn't always create quite enough liquid, so adding a little is helpful.  I went with the latter.

Two big drippy boxes of raw chicken breasts.  The breasts were large and had some fat that needed to be trimmed off, but were really not too bad.  I cut them in half, trimmed them up, and cubed them for jars or just left them in individual breasts for freezing.

Add 1 tsp of salt to each quart.  (I used canning salt because regular salt will cloud the liquid in the jar, but for chicken, I really don't think it matters, it ends up cloudy looking anyway...

Usually when I wipe jar tops, I just use a damp rag, but chicken is slimy, so I opted for a disposable paper towel and vinegar.

Add lids (I put mind in water, bring it to a boil, let them boil for a short while then put them on).

Add rings, and place them in your pressure canner.  Make sure to follow the instructions that came with your canner.  I bring the canner to a boil, put on the lid, wait for a steady stream of steam, then set the timer for 10 minutes.  After that I add the weight/stop to the lid and watch until the pressure gets to around 13 pounds psi.  Then I set the timer for 90 minutes.  I'm a little neurotic and checked the three canners I had going today every few minutes to make adjustments to the heat to keep the pressure in the right range.

Once the 90 minutes is up, turn off the heat and wait until the pressure gauge reads zero.  DO NOT REMOVE THE WEIGHT OR THE LID BEFORE THAT.  It sucks out the liquid from your jar, and also, will hurt you.  Once the pressure is gone to zero, carefully (you may want to wear an oven mitt just in case) remove the weight and the lid and using a jar lifter, move the jars to a safe place to cool down.  When they're cool check for seal, and any that don't seal should go in the fridge (I'd say reprocess them, but really, after 90 minutes, there's no way I'm redoing that for one jar that didn't seal.  We'll just eat it up this week).

I didn't take any pictures of the chicken that went in the freezer, because of slimy raw chicken juice everywhere, but I canned 40 pounds of chicken, and froze the other 40 pounds.  I used trays and wax paper, stacking them up so they'd all freeze individually to make them easy to put into bags later.

In the beginning of to 80 pounds of chicken, I cut really carefully so I didn't waste anything.  Toward the end I got a little sloppy.  I gathered up all the fatty chicken scraps and put them in the crock pot, covered them with water and stuck in some veggies that I happened to have on hand.  The crock pot is pretty full, and I haven't quite decided whether to make a huge pot of soup and eat it right away or try adding carrots/celery/onions and canning chicken noodle-less soup.  

All in all- it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, and now I have a shelf full of canned chicken and a freezer full of frozen chicken breasts.

Monday, August 19, 2013


My Mister decided to make sushi for dinner on Sunday, and we thought it would be fun to invite friends over.  With company coming, we needed something besides sushi to fill everyone up, so I decided to try something new.  Tempura veggies.  

Image Credit:

I've never made them before, so I started googling and found a couple of recipes that looked promising, and combined them a bit and came up with this:

The key to good tempura is the batter. You want it to be light and runny you aren't making fish sticks.

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg
2/3 cup ice cold seltzer water or gingerale

Put the egg in Ice Water and mix with chopsticks. Don't mix it perfectly. Dump all of the dry ingredients in. Give it a few choppy mixes with chop sticks. Don't attempt to blend all of the items together. It has to be lumpy for a true tempura texture. Dip and then fry until golden brown.

I doubled the recipe so we'd have plenty, and it was just barely enough to fry a good sized zucchini, an onion, a sweet potato and several mushrooms.

Once I had the recipe I needed a little more understanding of the How To, and found this website that walked me through all the steps (it's also where the picture came from since we ate ours up too fast to take a picture):

1. Prepare Vegetables
You can tempura fry just about any vegetable you have in the kitchen. In this case we used mushrooms (halved), onions (peeled and sliced), sweet potato (peeled and sliced into rounds), and broccoli florets (from the freezer, no preparation required!).
Other suggestions might include: Bell peppers, carrots, cabbage, green beans, snap peas, cauliflower, baby corn.
2. Heat Your Oil
Bring the oil in your deep fryer or Dutch oven/cast iron pot to 360°F. Some electric fryers only allow you to increase the temperature in specific increments, so if that's the case, go for less temperature and longer frying time for root vegetables and a higher time for things like broccoli that won't require as long of cooking.
3. Prepare the Batter
In a medium to large size mixing bowl, add the rice flour and seasonings (if you wish). Next add the club soda, ensuring that it is cold before mixing. You're looking for the consistency of pancake batter. It should be loose enough to coat things easily, but not drip off completely on the way to the fryer. If the batter is too thick, add club soda or ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until mixture loosens. If too thin, add rice flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it comes together. Bubbles are good, lumps are bad, make sure to mix thoroughly!
4. Coat the Vegetables
Most vegetables can be tossed in the batter bowl ahead of time and allowed to sink a little to coat each one. It's far easier than hand dipping, which means of course that you have one batter covered hand the entire time (not always awesome). Toss items in and help them sink or roll to be coated with the batter. A flat whisk works wonders for this.
5. Fry the Vegetables
Next, lift vegetables out of the batter with your whisk (a fish spatula or large slotted spoon can also work out with success) and allow them to drain slightly, scraping the back of your whisk on the side of the bowl to remove excess. Drop vegetable pieces into the oil one at a time, ensuring that they don't touch. Most everything will immediately sink to the bottom (although mushrooms float). Use a spider strainer or long handled utensil (like a metal skewer) to loosen them and keep them moving. This will allow them to cook evenly on all sides. Cook root vegetables for 4 minutes and all others for 3 This time might differ if your oil is at a different temperature.
6. Remove From Oil
Remove your freshly fried pieces from the oil with a spider or the basket the unit comes with (though truth be told, we like to use the spider no matter what we're cooking in). Place them on a few layers of paper towels to allow remaining oil to drain. Give them a light sprinkling of salt and allow to cool slightly.
7. Return Oil to Temperature
Before dropping in your next load of veggies, make sure your oil comes back up to temperature. If it doesn't, things can get a little soggy and although they'll still be tasty once removed from the fryer, they will be a little greasy instead of crispy and chewy.
8. Repeat
Continue repeating steps 4 through 7 above until all of your vegetables have been coated, fried and hopefully enjoyed! This is a great way to entertain — simply tell people you'll provide the oil and ask them to bring a few of their favorite vegetables and gather round the table! Fry, nibble and chat away and let the good times roll!
Additional Notes:
• On Club Soda: Try tossing your club soda into the freezer while your oil heats up. It will be enough time for things to chill without freezing, allowing you to have perfect tempura pieces coming out of your fryer for longer! The colder the batter, the crispier your crust and less soggy your veggies will be!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Grilled Flatbread Pizza

I planned on making pizza for dinner tonight, and since zucchini week(s) is in full bloom, I thought I'd recreate this delicious zucchini parmesan pizza.  Then I saw a link on another blog to flatbread with creamy red pepper scallion spread.  I wasn't interested in the spread or the salad (I wanted pizza!), but the flatbread and the grilling sounded amazing.  And it was.

I followed the instructions from the blog on the flat bread (except I doubled it):
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the bowl
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
  • 2 cups bread flour (or a little less, see directions)
  • 1/2 cup medium grind cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Add water and sugar to the bowl of a standing mixer fit with a dough hook. Sprinkle in the yeast and let sit for 5 minutes to bloom.
Mix in the olive oil then Add one cup of the flour along with the salt. Mix on low until well incorporated, and then turn the speed up to medium and mix for 3 minutes.
Add another 1/2 cup of flour and the 1/2 cup of cornmeal, and mix well, starting on low and then switching to medium speed. Then add another 1/2 cup of flour, again starting on low and switching to medium. Knead on medium for about 5 minutes. You may occasionally have to get in there with your hands if the dough starts climbing up the hook. It should become smooth and elastic and slightly tacky. At this point, incorporate flour by the tablespoon, with the mixer running. When it starts to seem dry, stop adding flour. This could be anywhere between 1/4 and 1/2 cup. Knead again on medium until it is elastic easy to stretch, about 8 more minutes.
Meanwhile, drizzle about two tablespoons of olive oil into a large mixing bowl. The dough will double in size, so make sure you have enough room. Form the dough into a ball and place in the bowl, tossing it around to coat with oil. Cover the top in plastic wrap and put in a warm place. Let dough rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size.
When dough has doubled, fire up your grill. Keep the flame high and close the lid. If you have a thermometer, it should be at about 500 F.
Somewhere around this point I gathered all my toppings and sliced the veggies (thinly!) I also discovered as I was cooking that since my zucchini was a little on the big side, the slices weren't cooking much, so I took them off and grilled them directly on the grill- do this on a cooler part of your grill while the first side is cooking.  It helps to have all the toppings on a tray so they can be easily and quickly transported to the grill.

Punch the dough down, give it a quick knead and tear it into 4 equal-ish pieces. On a large cutting board, form each piece into an oval that is about 8 inches long and 5 inches across. I just use my hands for this, but you can use a rolling pin if you prefer.
Place the dough on the grill. It should take about 3 to 4 minutes for the bottoms to get grill marks and become firm. If it takes a little longer that’s cool, but definitely check one after 3 minutes.

Here is where I diverged from the original recipe.  When the first side of the flatbread is cooked (I burned mine a tiny bit on the first round) flip it over, turn down the heat a little and add pizza sauce and any toppings.  My favorite combo was the zucchini, eggplant, mushroom, tomato, parmesan cheese and bacon bits.  Make sure to put the grilled veggies on at this point and put a little more cheese over the top to hold everything on.  Close the grill and cook for a minute or two until the cheese is melted and toppings are as cooked as you'd like them.

Remove pizzas from the grill and cut them into manageable pieces and enjoy.  These were incredible.  My Mister even commented on how amazing they were after his first bite, and he doesn't dole out praise like that unless he really means it.  

I think we'll be using the flatbread recipe instead of pizza dough from now on.  The original blog post gives the following instructions for oven baking: 

~ If you prefer to bake the breads, you can do so in a 450 F oven, for 12 to 15 minutes. Place directly on a baking stone for the crispiest results, but a large baking sheet will work, too!

I think I might try it sometime when it's not so hot outside, and just roll it out regular pizza style.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cake Idea

I pulled this from the facebook page for the One Hundred Dollars a Month blog, since I can't pin from Facebook, I'm posting this here so I can try to duplicate this cake... I've never used fondant, so I'm interested in how it will turn out.  There's also a tutorial for fondant pigs here.  I love the grass and flowers around the bottom.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Chocolate Oreo Cake

We're going to a friend's house for dinner tomorrow, and I volunteered to bring dessert.  I have fond memories of my parents' friends, the Kelly's, coming to our house for dinner and bringing the most amazing desserts, and since I didn't have much else going on today, I thought I'd experiment a little.  I took three different recipes from pinterest and a google search and combined them all. The recipes are listed at the bottom of the blog post for convenience. It seems a little complicated with three different recipes, but they all came together pretty easily.  You could simplify even more by using a devils food or some other chocolate cake mix instead of the Hershey's recipe.

For the cake, I used Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake.

It turned out really good, but it stuck to the pan really bad.  I greased and floured the pan, and I still broke the first cake in half with getting it out of the pan.  Next time I'd put a coffee filer on the bottom of the pan to help with cake extraction.

I got the idea of pouring chocolate over a rather lumpy frosting from this mint chocolate chip cake, although I didn't use anything from the actual recipe (this time, it's on my list of cakes, since my kids like mint chocolate chip ice-cream).

For the frosting (including between cake layers), I used Oreo Frosting with Cream Cheese. In the middle layer I left the oreos a little chunkier, but for the outside, I processed them until they were pretty fine.  I wanted to be able to pour the chocolate glaze over the top without having any problems with big chunks of oreo.  For a two layer cake, I doubled the recipe, just to make sure I could spread it thick since it's hard to spread this frosting thin with the chunks of oreo.

Oreo Cream Cheese Frosting

Make sure to get help licking the beater
For the glaze, I used a recipe I found on pinterest that went with a chocolate pumpkin cake.  I'd really like to make the chocolate pumpkin cake itself sometime, or at least pour this glaze over some other brightly colored frosting.  Make sure to chop the chocolate really fine.  Mine didn't melt originally, and I ended up have to rig a makeshift double boiler to melt it all.  I also waited too long to pour it on the cake, so it didn't spill over the sides as evenly as I would have liked it.   That's something that will come with practice, so I see more cakes like this in my future.  The glaze itself was actually really easy.

Chocolate Cake:
1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil 
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. 

8 oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
3-4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup crushed oreos

Whip cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy.
Mix in powdered sugar one cup at a time (until desired thickness is reached- I used 3 cups).
Add vanilla extract.
Gently stir in crushed Oreos. (I think it was around 9 oreos total)

4 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 tbsp cold unsalted butter
3 tbsp corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream

Place chopped bittersweet chocolate (I used semi sweet, and while I’m sure the end result is a different flavor than the original, it’s still very good), unsalted butter, and corn syrup in a medium heatproof bowl. 
Bring heavy cream to a boil, pour it over the chocolate, and let sit for 3 minutes. Gently stir, using a whisk, until smooth. Let sit for 3 to 5 minutes, until the glaze thickens slightly. Pour the glaze onto the center of the frosted cake and smooth out to the edges to allow the glaze to drop over the sides. Makes 1 cup. 

I topped the whole thing with a couple of oreos cut in half.  Not bad for a first try...

Friday, January 04, 2013

Garden Resolutions: 2013

Our new house is getting closer to being done.  The drywallers have finished, the gypcrete has been poured on the main floor (gypcrete is a soupy concrete-like material that we're using under the tile on the main floor to add "thermal mass", thermal mass acts as a heat sink, moderating the temperature of the house.), and the next thing to do is paint and tile.

With feeling like we may actually be able to move in at some point, I've been getting excited and overwhelemed  at the idea of creating a garden from scratch.

My plan is to fill the south side of the house with raised beds.  The raised beds may have to be unframed and we'll box them up a couple each year until they're done.

The east side of the house is going to be my "forest" and maybe at some point there will be a pond in the corner near where we buried Taja.  The west side will be the grassy rectangle for the boys to play and run around, and we'll surround it with raised beds like we did at our last house- those raised beds will hold the grapes, strawberries, raspberries, and whatever else I can think of.

One side of the very long driveway will be our "orchard.  I'll probably plant a peach tree, an apricot tree, a plum tree, and a nectarine tree.  I'm debating doing some espaliered apple trees...

It's going to be a lot of work and I'm sure it will take several years to get things the way I want them, but eventually it will be great.

If I can manage to get anything done besides just getting things going, my plans for reclaiming my inner pioneer this year include:

Trying round 2 with bees.  Try #1 didn't survive the winter (we may have squashed the queen...).

Try #2 with the potato tower (this time I'll make sure to get the right kind of potato).

Try artichokes again.  Last time, I was able to get one plant through the winter, and it produced several artichokes, but I'm thinking they would fit really well up against the house on the south side of the yard.  In between the window wells...