Wednesday, November 27, 2013

That's a Whole Lot 'o Latkes!

Happy Chanukah!


As you've probably heard, this year Thanksgiving falls on the first day of Chanukah. I won't go into a detailed explanation of the Hebrew calendar and why Chanukah is so early this year...if you're interested, here is some great info on how the dates of Chanukah and Thanksgiving have intersected in the past, and when they will again (link).


Of course, what this means for me is two days of latkes! We have a somewhat complicated rotation for our Thanksgivings, since Sean grew up always celebrating with each side of his family separately. This year we have Thursday with my family to do "Thanksgivukkah" and Friday with Sean's extended family on his mom's side. Sean has seven cousins on his mom's side, all with spouses or dates, and lots of kids. It's the giant raucous gathering I never had as a kid! This year there will be about 25 people at our Friday feast, and I'm making the latkes!

I probably won't get the chance to share any pictures of latkes until after the Thanksgiving weekend...oh, who am I kidding. I won't get the chance to share them until winter break! But until then, I wanted to share what our current Thanksgiva-Christma-Chanukah decorations look like. Dreidels, menorahs, Nutcrackers, ornaments, pumpkins and squash. What more could you want?


Wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving, and a festive Chanukah!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dried Persimmons

Dehydrating fruit is a great, easy way to preserve a bounty without canning. As I mentioned in my previous post about persimmons, they are not acidic enough to be safely canned in a boiling water bath. Because we had already filled our own freezer and my parents' with jars of persimmon butter as well as chopped persimmons, drying was necessary!

The method is so simple it hardly qualifies as a true "recipe." All I did was slice them  into fairly even chips, about 1/4" thick. I placed them on the dehydrator racks, making sure not to overlap. I then ran the dehydrator for about 8 hours. My dehydrator only has an on/off switch, no temperature control, so I can't say what temp to set a more complex machine to.

Living Design: Dried Persimmons

In step-by-step directions:
1. Slice persimmons into 1/4" thick rounds
2. Place on dehydrator racks, with no overlap
3. Run dehydrator for 8 hours, or until done
4. Store in sealed container

Dried persimmons make a great snack! Dried fruit also lasts fairly long in a sealed bag in the pantry, so I'm sure we will be enjoying these dried persimmons for much of the winter.

Do you dehydrate fruit? What are some of your favorites? I'm new to dehydrating, but since it's so simple I'd love to do more of it and I always love new ideas!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Knee Deep in Persimmons

Last Saturday we went out with Village Harvest again, this time to pick persimmons. I don't have any pictures of the actual harvest to share with you, but I do have pictures of all the persimmons we came home with!

Living Design: Persimmons

Over 1000lbs of persimmons were donated to local food banks, and about 200lbs of damaged or over ripe fruit were available for volunteers to take home. Sean and I ended up with 3 bags, which weigh about 47lbs. Man, that's a lot of persimmons.

Unfortunately for us, these persimmons are not the sweet Fuyu variety, but the highly astringent Hachiya variety. This means they can't be eaten raw unless they are super ripe, something unlikely to happen before they go moldy since so many are damaged. So, like I have after other harvests, I turned to Pinterest to find recipes!

We started with persimmon butter. Similar in texture to apple butter, it can be spread on toast. I used this recipe from Green Basket. The author does call for Fuyus, but after doing some research I figured out that Hachiyas would work fine if I increased the sugar a bit. Unfortunately, while the author says she canned her persimmon butter, the National Center for Home Food Preservation does not recommend using a boiling water bath for canning persimmons as they are a low-acid fruit. (A term Sean would like to go on record as taking issue with, as neutral or base would be more correct, depending on where the fruit actually falls on the PH scale. I love when he's a science geek in the kitchen!) Instead of canning, we decided to freeze the persimmon butter. Luckily, my parents had recently made some room in their large freezer, so in went some jars of persimmon butter!

We also made a batch of persimmon chutney using this recipe. The chutney was very easy, and made a small enough batch that, while the vinegar should make it safe to can in a boiling water bath, we decided to just refrigerate and freeze.

One of the best ways to use up all these persimmons, without needing to freeze a ton of jars, is to dry them. My mom recently picked up a cheap food dehydrator at a thrift store, and this thing has been working overtime since she brought it home! I'm so glad she let us borrow it. Here it is full of persimmons:

Living Design: Dehydrated Persimmons

We also just tossed a bunch of whole persimmons in both our own freezer and my parents'. I just chopped off the tops, trimmed any bad spots, and filled gallon sized freezer bags. This gives us more time to spread out the cooking, drying, baking...whatever we want to do with them.

Last but not least, I made a batch of Chocolate Persimmon Muffins. This recipe was amazing! I had to change it a little since neither of us wanted to run to the store again, so I used white chocolate powder rather than regular; I also used whole wheat flour rather than buckwheat. I can't wait to make these again using some of the persimmons we tossed in the freezer!

Persimmons also make for good fall decor, as long as they are intact enough to last a few days:

Living Design: Persimmons

Living Design: Fall Decor

If you have any favorite recipes for Hachiya persimmons, please share in the comments! You can see from the picture just how many we still need to deal with...and then there are the 4 gallon bags in the freezers!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Handmade Holiday Gifts: A Preview

Back in July, Sean and I decided we wanted to strive for a minimal waste holiday. Fewer gifts that come with excessive packaging; more handmade gifts; using recyclable or reusable materials for wrapping. Well, now that it's only a week and a half until Chanukah, it's looking like fewer handmade gifts than we hoped. But, we have been able to make some good choices regarding packaging so I'm still pleased with how we're reducing our waste this holiday season.

Just in case any gift recipients read my blog, I won't post any pictures of full gifts until after they are given (whether it's given at Chanukah or Christmas). But, here's a preview of what I've been making:
Living Design: Handmade Holiday Gifts

I'm looking forward to sharing all of my handmade holiday gifts after Christmas!


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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Slow Cooker Meals: Recipe Review

Whew! I've made it through another round of tech rehearsals and opening night! I love working in theater, but it sure can be exhausting.

Because of all the late nights that come from opening a show, I made up a few slow cooker meals for the freezer back in September. Since I'm fairly new to using the slow cooker in general, and especially new to freezing and then cooking, I wanted to pop back in and share what we thought of each recipe.

To recap, I made the following three meals:
Apricot Chicken from A Year of Slow Cooking
Thai Peanut Chicken from Practical Stewardship
Chicken with Kumquat Chutney (based on the Barbeque Chicken at Practical Stewardship)

The Chicken with Kumquat Chutney was the first meal we tried. It was simple and tasty, though I would use more chicken or less sauce next time. The only drawback to this was that it only covers the main dish; Sean whipped up some salad to go with it, which worked well. But it does mean that, when planning to pull this meal out of the freezer, a veggie side dish also needs to be planned.

The Thai Peanut Chicken was the next meal that got pulled from the freezer. This is a great meal for a busy day since you can do chicken and veggies at once. It's also an awesome recipe for using up those random veggie scraps I sometimes toss in the freezer. I will say, as someone who grew up in the SF Bay Area with all the culinary diversity around, this was blander than any Thai food I've had at a restaurant. I may tinker with the sauce a bit to give it more spice or depth, but overall I think this is a pretty successful recipe.

The Apricot Chicken was actually my least favorite recipe. It was just far too sweet for me. Growing up, my mom made some Apricot Ginger Chicken Wings...maybe tinker with the recipe and add in some ginger to cut the sweetness? Reduce the amount of jam? It wasn't bad, but I wouldn't make it following the original recipe again.

Even though I want to tinker with these recipes, I'd still say my experiment was a success! Despite long tech days, we got to eat some real meals without all the additives of store-bought freezer food. I think I'll keep experimenting with slow cooker freezer meals...maybe try to do one a week? We'll see, but I know I'm definitely happy to have the time to get back into my blogging groove!