January – Kitchen and recipe overhaul

In January, I’m tackling another 31 day project. This month I am concentrating on everything in the kitchen. Our fridge, freezer, and cupboards have gotten out of control. My menu planning and grocery shopping has been in shambles, which means our grocery budget has spiraled out of control.

This first week of January has been crazy with the girls going back to school, starting up therapy sessions again, and a trip to the ER. So I haven’t been able to blog about my goals for January but I have been working on them!

The very first thing I tackled was our fridge. It was a mess! I forgot to take pictures as I went but imagine wilting vegetables, expired condiments, and stale bread. Spills on shelves. That’s all been cleaned up and it’s now much easier to tell at a glance what we have available to eat or cook with.

Secondly, I tackled our freezer. I’m not sure you can tell the difference in the photos, but I threw out several bags of disgusting frozen bananas. We also ate a couple bags of things that were getting low. Then I organized the rest.


Before


After

After cleaning out the fridge and freezer, we were able to buy some basic supplies I hadn’t even realized we needed. Our meal planning has really been that much of a mess lately that I didn’t even realize what we have or don’t have.

“Mama, what’s for dinner?”
“Ramen.”

Ramen has been a fall back once a week for the past few months. We’ve also been eating a lot of rice and tofu with various sauces. Meal planning has been so stressful that I can’t even remember what we used to like to eat. My girls have gotten more and more picky, causing more and more anxiety on my part, so meals have really been a mess. That’s what I’m trying to fix this month, one small step at a time.

This week I’ll be concentrating on my recipe book. I have a binder stuffed full of recipes and I have no idea which meals we liked or didn’t like. I can’t even tell what recipes we’ve actually tried. I just printed a bunch of recipes, bought ingredients for many of them, and then promptly forgot why I had purchased sun-ripened tomatoes in a jar. They are still sitting in my cupboard, months after buying them. An expensive ingredient, too!

I’m going to empty out the binder and go through each recipe one by one. Does it still sound good? Did we try it? Did we like it? I’ll slowly reassemble my recipe binder with recipes we actually like so that I can start working on a meal plan.

As I type all of this out, it sounds overwhelming. But I’m going to concentrate on just one step at a time and try to regain control of my kitchen.

Cooking adventures

I finally finished deep cleaning my kitchen. It took way too long because I kept getting distracted by plane tickets, hotel reservations, shopping for our trip, and Candy Crush. Whoops! But I’m thrilled with the results.

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before

The entire kitchen has now been KonMarie’d, scrubbed, and organized.

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after

My husband was hankering after baked macaroni and cheese so I found a new recipe online and baked up a pan.

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It was so good!! I used panko instead of bread crumbs and it baked perfectly.

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We’ll definitely make the recipe again.

Cheese!

Say cheese!

Tonight we tasted my homemade feta cheese. It was a tad salty so I rinsed it off before putting it on the pizza.

Success!

Tonight I only used up the partial jar of feta. I still have another full jar and will let that age a bit longer. I am thrilled that I was able to make cheese from a gallon of milk.

We want to attempt cheddar cheese next, which has to age for six long months. I love aged cheeses so I’m excited about the possibilities.

Cheesemaking progress

We are plowing forward in our efforts to make feta cheese. After three days of drying, the cheese was finally ready for the next step. It’s a good thing I read the directions online instead of relying on the pamphlet in the kit. The pamphlet said that the cheese should dry for two days; the online directions said it could take up to three days to dry. Mine took three full days.

Close up of this beautiful but stinky cheese

Jarred and in a light brine solution. These are going in the fridge to ripen for another 7-10 days and then we’ll do a taste test.

Speaking of cheese, we discovered a very happy announcement at the mall.

Beecher’s is coming to our local mall! Woohoo! I adore their fresh mac&cheese but we have to visit Pike Place Market in order to partake. Soon there will be a restaurant 15 minutes from our house!

Adventures in Cheesemaking

I finally dove into my cheesemaking yesterday. I didn’t mean to wait until so late in the month but stuff kept happening and I couldn’t find an entire day to devote to the process.

Starting off with whole milk from Whole Foods.

Using the thermometer from the kit…

only to discover that ours works so much better!

At the end of step one, the milk was starting to change form.

I did a really messy job turning it into curds.

Draining.

Draining some more.

Starting the drying process.

Drying while covered in cheesecloth.

I started the process yesterday morning around 10. I think it was 11PM or so when it was finally ready to add the ingredients for the brine. This morning I had to get up early and lay it all out so that it could dry flat. I’ve been rotating the cheese every couple of hours today so that it will dry on all sides. I have to do the same tomorrow and then Sabbath morning it finally starts the ripening process. It will be another week before it’s ready to eat.

What have I learned? This takes a lot of time and way more patience than I possess. I had SUCH a hard time keeping the milk at the right temperature. It was supposed to be heated indirectly so I placed the pan on top of my frying pan. The frying pan was filled with water and heated, which then heated my pan and the milk. Even with that, I couldn’t get it hot enough and then I way overshot the target temperature. To be honest, I might have ruined it. It smells like cheese but it’s pungent. It’s supposed to ripen into feta cheese, which I know has a strong smell. But this is slightly different. I’m not sure if it’s normal or if I ruined the cheese when I heated the milk too hot. We’re going to wait until tomorrow to see if the smell changes and decide if we’re going to keep the process going or toss it out and try again some other time.

Either way, if I end up with trash or cheese, it has definitely been a learning experience. I had no idea cheesemaking is so HARD!

May 30 Day Challenge

To help keep me busy while we wait and wait and wait for the court process, I thought it would be fun to pick a project for the month of May. There are several I could have picked from, most of which consist of finishing knitting and quilting projects that are in various stages of completion. But I thought it would be more fun to do something related to cooking – making cheese.

My mother-in-law bought me a cheesemaking kit for Christmas and I am so excited to get started!

I have two cheesemaking books. One is for dairy cheeses…

And the other is for vegan cheeses…

This weekend I will flip through both books, decide what type of cheese I want to attempt, and make a shopping list in preparation for grocery shopping on Monday. I can’t wait!

Kitchen shortcuts

This afternoon I decided to try a new method of cooking pumpkin in preparation for pie.

My normal method is to cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out all of the seeds, put the two halves face down in about half an inch of water, and bake for an hour. It works great, provides an easy method of peeling off the skin, but adds a lot of extra water to the pumpkin flesh. This means that it’s harder to get a good consistency in my pie.

But today I found this method which is even easier! Wash the pumpkin, stab holes in it, bake it, and then cut it open to scoop out the innards and peel off the skin. It worked great! We’ll see how my pie consistency turns out after the pie cools overnight in the fridge. I’m so excited about this new method of baking a pumpkin!

Cranberry orange muffins

When my husband bought me a muffin pan last month, I was so excited! I haven’t made muffins in over two years since we left our rusted metal tins back in Arizona.

The very first batch of muffins I made was an old favorite, Cranberry Orange. This recipe is fantastic. It’s a little bit more work than a boxed muffin mix but so worth the effort. I especially love adding the fresh orange zest. We only have two muffins left and I can’t wait to make another dozen!