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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Black Bean Enchilada Casserole with Homemade Enchilada Sauce

About once a week I work later in the evening, leaving my husband to deal with the kids, animals and dinner.  I try to put together a dinner he can just pop into the oven when he gets home so it will be one less thing to worry about.  I have several casseroles I put together ahead of time, and enchilada casseroles are some of their favorites.

Black Bean Enchilada Casserole
1 can or  1 ½ cups of cooked black beans (here are instructions on how to cook beans)
1 ½ cups corn, I use frozen organic or fresh cut off the cob
1 ½ cups diced, canned, tomatoes
1 large can or 1 ½ - 2 cups enchilada sauce (see recipe for homemade enchilada sauce below)
2 cups shredded cheese
Corn or flour tortillas to make 3 layers

Mix together drained beans, corn, and tomatoes (a little juice is ok, but drain if it’s very wet), coat bottom of 9X13 casserole with enchilada sauce, layer with tortillas, top with ½ bean mixture, drizzle with enchilada sauce, 1/3 of the cheese, repeat, layer and top with tortillas.  Spread top of casserole with remaining enchilada sauce, then top with cheese.  Cover with foil and bake at 375 for about 1 hour or until tortillas are soft and casserole is hot and bubbly. This can be layered in a crock pot, you’ll have to tear the tortillas to fit, assemble as above, cover and cook on low for approx 5-7 hours depending on the crock pot.

I used to buy canned enchilada sauce, but as I am trying to avoid canned goods due to BPA, I have started making my own, and it’s really easy and tasty. I often don’t measure things, just sort of guesstimate, so these amounts are approximate, experiment and find the taste YOU like.

Enchilada Sauce
24 oz tomato sauce (If you are like me and aren’t lucky enough to have homemade sauce, I use Pomi brand, it’s imported from Italy, and packaged in a carton which is BPA free. I find it in my local grocery store, and I know available on Amazon)
1 teaspoon cumin
2  teaspoon of chili powder (hot or mild or a mix of both or a lot more to your taste)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon Mexican oregano

Mix together in a pot and simmer on the stove until slightly thickened.  If your tomato sauce is very thin, you may need to thicken in with some flour, I don't have directions for this because the Pomi sauce is quite thick, but there are many online recipes that give instructions for this.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Weekend Girls Camping Trip

This past weekend we had a “girls” weekend.  I took my daughter and her 2 friends overnight camping. I learned how to hook up and pull our camp trailer a few summers ago.  It was the summer that my husband chinked our log home.  It was a HUGE process and it literally took him all summer, but there wasn’t anything the rest of us could do to help him once the logs were stripped, so we went camping a couple times on our own.  Yes, I know, trailer camping isn’t REALLY camping, but there are several reasons I like it. One, my back doesn’t love sleeping on the ground, no matter how much of a pad I use, two, we go more often since it’s always set up and ready except for food and clothes, and three it offers protection from the elements, so I’ll be camping in my trailer.
A previous picture of our trailer

What I won’t do is what our lovely campground neighbors did.  We finally got the trailer parked around 2pm, ok so I learned how to pull it, parking it is a whole other ball game, and I’m terrible at it.  I’m worse, when I have 3 tweens, standing in my blind spot, having a conference on when to tell me to turn, rather than actually telling me to turn.  Yep, embarrassing, more embarrassing, when the park ranger stuck behind me while I tried repeatedly to get it backed into the spot, gave me applause when I finally succeeded!  Back to the neighbors, so we get parked, make lunch, then head out exploring, and come back to find the neighbors had parked their trailer, hooked up a large, LOUD, obnoxious generator, and climbed inside!  Now there are only 3 things that my trailer won’t do on the battery power.  It won’t run the air conditioner, the microwave, or the TV (if we had a TV, which we don’t).  It was 88 degrees, so I picture the family of 5, watching movies, popping microwave popcorn, nice and cool with the AC running.

  The girls and I headed to the hot springs, yep I know we’re geniuses going to the hot springs on the hottest day of the year, but one of the girls only swims where she can see the bottom (ie in actual pools), so we spent 2 hours swimming in water as hot as the outdoors, with everyone else in town, because being a genius as I mentioned, we also managed to be heading out there during the Fairbanks Cycling Club, Chena Hot Springs Bike Classic.  So yes I had to dodge bikes, while pulling a trailer, on a road with no shoulder, and by the time we reached the hot springs, all those bike riders were reaching the hot springs and heading inside.  It was crowded, and always fun to see people you know while in your bathing suit.  The joys of small town living.
Photo Credit
The outdoor "adult only" pool in an earlier picture

 Anyway we actually had a great time, and headed back to a nutritious dinner of hot dogs cooked over a fire and smores.  A lovely dinner while listening to our neighbors, still inside their trailer, with the giant, noisy, obnoxious generator still running.  It ran until 8 when we complained a little, and was off for approximately 1 hour until a thunder storm came in.  We headed inside, because that’s the awesomeness of having the trailer.  So I read my Nook, while the girls played board games, and of course it wasn’t too long before the considerate neighbors started up the beast.  I had a great time listening to the girls play Clue, and for some reason in British accents, while reading my book, and secretly wishing the lightning would strike the ginormous generator dead.  No such luck, but we did have one lightening strike disturbingly close, and at 11 they did observe the quiet time and we had some peace.   
The next morning we did discover there was a mom and 2 girls in addition to the dad and boy (the only family member who moved from the trailer coming outside to ride his bike occasionally).  Of course a day wouldn’t be complete without the TV and microwave, so the generator was going by 9 am.  We explored again in the morning, in the drizzle, and stuck or feet in the river while being bit by tons of mosquitoes before we headed home.

Of course the generator was still running when we headed out, all members of the family inside.  I have to really wonder why the heck they didn’t just stay home, I just don’t get it.  Despite the rude neighbors who ran the generator 11 of the 21 hours we were there (yep I counted), we did have a great time, and the girls are already planning our next camping trip.  As for the neighbors, I hope they stay home, and that I never have the pleasure of camping with them again.

Friday, June 24, 2011

How does my garden grow?

Sorry about my lack of posting this week, I've been a bit under the weather.  I decided to post an update on how the garden, chickens and turkeys are doing.  Please excuse the poor picture quality, my digital camera died and I'm down to just my iphone.
So far the greenhouse cucumbers look much better than last year.  The milk jugs didn't do much to keep it warmer, but they seem to work quite well at keeping it cooler on the really hot days.
My Maintoba tomato has some buds!  They seem to have recovered nicely.
The jalapenos in the cold frame are doing well, and we have buds and a few peppers growing
The sungold snacking tomatoes I have in the outdoor pot are also doing much better and have a couple buds.
The rhubarb is growing well, one of my few perennial fruits.
I have some yellow summer squash going, zucchini too, but the picture was blurry.
A patty pan squash too, my first time growing these.
The broccoli is growing too, not big enough to form any heads yet though
The greens have taken off finally.
The cabbage too.
Eagerly awaiting the peas to start flowering.  Got them nicely weeded and mulched with some straw.
The potatoes are up and hilled.

The turkeys are getting big, and come begging at the fence for chickweed snacks as much as the chickens do!
The chickens enjoying their summertime treats.
Bailey our puppy is getting big.
Ok so she's not a garden, chicken or turkey, but she is stinkin' cute, and so busy, she makes our hyper springer appear calm.

 Well that's what's going on in my garden and around our place this week.  I have a front flowerbed to weed and to be terraced, and a flowerbed around a tree in the backyard that needs extreme help.  If I make headway on those I'll post some pics, bad, grainy iphone pics, but hey they'll be pics.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Help With Root Vegetables

Photo Credit

Ok, so no matter what I do, most of the time my radishes just grow big tops and never make the bulb at the root.  Last year I tried several varieties and the only ones I that did anything are the French Breakfast.  So I planted only those this year.  I also for the first time planted beets, rutabagas, and turnips.  Only a couple of the radishes are bulbing and from what I can tell, none of the other veggies are either.  The only root I seem to be able to grow well are carrots.  Help?  What am I doing wrong?

I planted mid may which sounds late, but remember I am in Alaska, and Mid May was when the soil FINALLY warmed up to 40 degrees.  The soil is a loose soil with a lot of compost mixed in, it is not hard packed, and they are properly spaced and not overcrowded.  I have grown many other things in this soil, and it all does fine, and it doesn’t seem to matter where I plant them, the very same thing happens.  What did happen is that it warmed up to 80 degrees, 1.5-2 weeks after I planted them.  Do you think this is why? It rarely gets hot that early, and I have always had this problem. Or does it have anything to do with constant sunlight?  I’m growing varieties for AK. I’m really frustrated, these veges are supposed to grow really well in our cold climate, and I feel like I’m the only one who has this problem! Anyone else have this problem? Does anyone have any suggestions?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ever Wonder What It's Like Living in Alaska?

Moose in my yard, I have so many moose butt pictures!

Here is a kind of fun article I found in the News Miner a few days ago.  I thought it may be interesting to any of you who eve wondered what it's like living here, it may even be interesting to those who do.  

Tips, trivia and fun facts about Fairbanks

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - When was Fairbanks founded?

It was incorporated in 1903 but it was actually founded in 1901 when E.T. Barnette set out to establish a trading post at Tanacross on the Tanana River. Low water in the Tanana River forced Barnette to put in a few miles up one of its tributaries, the Chena River. Finding more miners than he expected in the area, Barnette decided to open his trading post here and move to Tanacross the following summer. However, he wound up staying when Felix Pedro discovered gold in the area north of Fairbanks and the city sprouted around Barnette’s trading post. Barnette became the first mayor of the city when it was incorporated in 1903.

How did Fairbanks get its name?

Fairbanks was named by city founder E.T. Barnette in honor of Sen. Charles W. Fairbanks of Indiana, who would go on to serve at Theodore Roosevelt’s vice president.

Do people still mine gold in Fairbanks?

Yes. The largest open-pit gold mine in Alaska, Fort Knox Gold Mine, is located 26 miles north of Fairbanks. Operating since 1996, the mine poured its 5 millionth ounce of gold in early 2011, with another 3 million still to be mined. The Pogo Gold Mine, an underground gold mine located 85 miles southeast of Fairbanks, began operation in 2007 and produces about 340,000 ounces of gold a year. It has an estimated reserve of 5.6 million ounces.

Can you see the northern lights in the summer?

No. The aurora borealis is visible in Fairbanks for approximately 200 days a year, roughly from mid-September to April. The best viewing is usually December through March when it is clearest and coldest. Northern lights are present year round but the daylight prevents them from being visible during the summer.

Why are there electrical outlets in all the parking lots?

Due to the extreme cold temperatures in Fairbanks during the winter, most vehicles are equipped with several electric “heating” devices that facilitate starting during the coldest time.

The standard set up consists of a engine block heater that circulates warm water through the cooling system, an oil pan heater that warms the oil, and a battery blanket/pad that warms the battery. It usually takes an hour or two after a vehicle is plugged in to warm it enough to start. Most employers provide “plug-ins” for its employees.

How long does the Chena River stay frozen?

The Chena River usually freezes sometime in mid to late October and remains frozen until late April or early May.

One part of the river, about a mile-long stretch from the Aurora Energy power plant on First Avenue to Pioneer Park, remains open year-round because of the warm water being discharged from the power plant.

How many moose live in Fairbanks?

In the Fairbanks Management Area, which basically covers Fairbanks’ urban environment — if you can call it that — there are an estimated 500 moose, according to surveys conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. That area encompasses everything from Ester to North Pole to Fox. The number of moose in game management unit 20B, which encompasses most of the road system surrounding Fairbanks from Salcha to Chena Hot Springs to Chatanika to Manley to Nenana, is estimated at approximately 20,000.

That population has nearly doubled in the past decade. As a result, the Department of Fish and Game has been issuing more hunting permits for cow moose in both the Fairbanks Management Area and other areas along the road system in the past few years.

“The goal is to keep a nice balance of moose numbers so people have the opportunity to see moose but not to have a lot of nuisance complaints and conflicts and to keep road kill to a minimum,” Fairbanks area biologist Don Young with the Department of Fish and Game said.

How many moose get hit by cars around Fairbanks?

On average, approximately 150 moose are killed on Fairbanks area roads each year. The dead moose are salvaged by local charities so the meat does not go to waste.

How do people drive in the winter?

Most Alaskan drivers in the Interior use studded snow tires or special winter tires for extra traction on the snow and ice. Studded tires can be used from Sept. 15 to May 1 in Fairbanks and other areas north of 60 degrees latitude and Sept. 30 to April 15 in areas south of 60 degrees.

Is it dark all day long in the winter?

Not really. The shortest day of the year is on Dec. 21, the winter solstice, when there is 3 hours, 43 minutes, of official daylight.

But there is usually a half-hour or so of twilight on each side of sunrise and sunset that translates to about 4 or 5 hours of light during the darkest days, from about 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Granted, it’s not bright light, but we’ll take all we can get. After Dec. 21, we start gaining 6-7 minutes of daylight each day.

Is it light all day long in the summer?

Look out the window. Seriously, though, the longest day of the year is on June 21, the summer solstice, when there is 21 hours, 49 minutes of official daylight. At that point, in the last half of June and first half of July, it pretty much is light all day long. After June 21, we start losing 6-7 minutes of daylight each day.

How do you sleep in the summer with all the light?

You close your eyes and count moose. Kidding aside, most people who have spent much time in Fairbanks during the summer either are used to the extended daylight or they get a good set of curtains to keep the light out at night. Beyond that, you can use a mask to cover your eyes or move to the Lower 48.

Why do people drive around with big, plastic water tanks in the back of their pickup trucks?

Many people in Fairbanks do not have wells because of the high iron and/or arsenic content and instead use holding tanks that are buried beneath the ground and plumbed into the house. Holding tanks for residential homes are usually 1,000 to 1,500 gallons. People with holding tanks have two options: Pay 8 to 10 cents a gallon to get water delivered by one of several water delivery companies in town or haul their own water at 1 to 2 cents per gallon.

What do people do outdoors in Fairbanks during the winter?

You’d be amazed at how many people you see doing things outdoors in the winter in Fairbanks, even when it’s 20 or 30 degrees below zero. Cross-country skiing, skijoring, dog mushing, snowshoeing, snowmachining and ice fishing are all popular wintertime activities.

What do dog mushers do with their sled dogs in the summer?

For the most part, sled dogs get a chance to catch their breath and shed their fur during the summer months.

While most mushers typically stop running their sled dogs at the end of April when the snow melts, some mushers do exercise their dogs during the summer months using bicycles and ATVs instead of sleds.

Competitive racers usually start regularly training their dogs again in August when the weather cools by hitching them to the front of an ATV and having the dogs pull it or running the machine at a 10-12 mph pace behind the dogs.

Mushers will use ATVs to train their dogs until there is enough snow to use a sled, usually sometime in mid- to late November.

Fairbanks Facts

• City population: 35,252*

• Borough population: 97,970*

• Military personnel: Approximately 16,500

• Driving miles to Anchorage: 358 on the Parks Highway.

• Driving miles to Arctic Circle: 200 on the Elliott and Dalton highways.

• Daily newspapers: 1

• Television stations: 8

• Radio stations: 16

• Median household income: $40,577

• Biggest private employer: Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, 1,302 workers in 2007.

• Political makeup: 58 percent Republican; 39.3 percent Democrat**

• Hottest temperature ever recorded in summer: 99 degrees on July 28, 1919

• Coldest temperature ever recorded in winter: 66 degrees below zero on Jan. 14, 1934

• Average winter snowfall: 67.4 inches (over last 30 years)

• Record winter snowfall: 147.3 inches —1990-91

• Average date of first snow: Sept. 21

• Snowiest month: November, 13.8 inches

• Wettest month: August, 1.74 inches

• Driest month: April, 0.21 inches

• Windiest month: May. Average wind speed of 6.7 mph

• Average annual precipitation: 10.34 inches

• Record annual precipitation: 18.52 inches 1990

• Longest day of year: 21 hours, 49 minutes

• Shortest day of year: 3 hours, 43 minutes

* According to 2009 Census Bureau estimates.

** Based on 2008 presidential election results

Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - Tips trivia and fun facts about Fairbanks

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Beans 101

Image credit

I have to admit, for most of my life I haven’t been a bean eater.  It just wasn’t something we grew up eating often, so I never really learned to enjoy them.  When I started a quest to eat healthier, to eat more whole foods, to eat less meat, and to save money, beans just couldn’t be ignored any longer.   I started out using canned beans, which were ok and quick, but I didn’t love them.  Then came the quest to eliminate canned goods (due to bpa in the lining), I decided to bite the bullet and make my own.  I couldn’t be that hard, right? It turns out that they are super easy to cook, they freeze well and they taste 100 times better than canned.  I especially used to hate the slimy metallic tasting broth in the cans and would rinse it off the beans.  The broth in home cooked beans is really yummy!  I save it and freeze it in measured amounts and use it in place of chicken or beef broth in recipes.  

Basic cooked beans

1 # dry beans, black, kidney, chick pea (garbanzo), great northern, any kind except split pea and lentil (which cook differently).
6 cups water
½ tablespoon of salt

Place all together in a pot and bring to a boil, decrease the heat to a simmer, and cover and simmer until done about 2 ½ hours.  Or place with hot water in a crock pot on high setting and cook until tender 3 ½-4 hours, or on low with cold water 7-8 hours.  Makes 10 – ½ cup servings.  I often double the recipe and freeze what I don’t use in 2 cup servings in a little broth, to use later in recipes, and I also freeze the broth for soups.  Most recipes call for seasoning with salt after cooking, which I used to do, but I find this just easier and leaves it seasoned perfectly.

There is a lot out there about soaking beans, making them easier to digest and less gassy.  I personally do not soak my beans and prefer the broth when they are not soaked, and haven’t noticed a difference with the gassy side effects.  I think this is more a factor of eating a high fiber diet, when your body is used to it, it will be much less of a problem. If you choose this method, soak beans in 3 times their volume in water, bring to a simmer, and shut off and leave to soak, some sources say 1-2 hours, others say to improve the digestibility soak for 12-24 hours.  Drain, and cook as above, however the cooking times will be less, and you’ll have to experiment with this as I haven’t. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Basic Whole Wheat Pastry Dough, Broccoli Cheddar Quiche

I have tried many variations on whole wheat pastry, and although I’ve never been able to duplicate the flaky texture of white flour pastry, I have come up with a whole wheat pastry that we like.  You know you have found success when you ask your husband, “So did you like the whole wheat crust?”, and you get the reply “That was whole wheat?”.  Yea!  So really it’s the fat that makes the pastry.  When I became enlightened to the evils of hydrogenated oils (ok, well I had been enlightened for a long time, I just didn’t do anything about it because, well after all, I didn’t make things with it that often, a little couldn’t be that harmful, could it?).  Finally I just decided, yes, yes it can, and stopped, and then started my quest, to find a replacement.  I tried butter, coconut oil, and palm fruit shortening; if I could find a decent source for lard I would have definitely tried it.  In the end, the palm fruit shortening worked well with white flour, but for whole wheat, butter was the winner.  It’s not flaky, but tender and yummy.

Basic Whole Wheat Pastry Dough
Makes enough for a 9” covered pie
2 ½ cups of whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, cold and cut into pieces
Ice water to make a workable dough

Place flour, salt, in a bowl, add the cut up butter and cut into the flour with a pastry blender or 2 knives, until the largest pieces are about pea size, and the mix resembles coarse crumbs. 

  Add ice water until dough just clings together.  DO NOT OVERWORK your pastry dough; it will get tough and yucky.  I used about ½ cup for this recipe.  I drop it in slowly and mix it around with either my fingers or a fork until it just starts to cling together.  When it looks like it might, I sort of push it together into a ball, if it won’t stick add a little more until it forms a ball, but just press it together do not knead or work it. 

  Half the dough and roll out on a floured surface.  For whole wheat this is the biggest challenge, I just can’t get it to stick together well and it (well just look at the picture!).  

 Don’t despair, It will still work out, I promise! Just squish the pieces or tear off some pieces and squish them over the holes and fill it in, then trim the edge and crimp with fingers or a fork. 

For a regular pie, I just use it as usual pie pastry, but if I’m making something really wet like quiche or pumpkin, I pop the crust into the oven for 15 minutes at 375 for 10-15 minutes, let it cool a bit, then add my filling and bake as directed. This seems to keep it from getting soggy.  

Broccoli Cheddar Quiche
½ recipe of Whole Wheat Pastry Dough, or whole recipe and double the quiche recipe
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups of milk
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
¾-1 cup of blanched and chopped broccoli (it could be cooked leftovers too)

Place chopped broccoli in the bottom of a prepared and partially baked pastry crust, top with shredded cheddar.  

beat eggs, milk and seasoning together and pour over the top. I topped mine with tomato slices.
 Bake at 375 degrees, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean and the pie doesn’t jiggle in the center, this took me about 45 minutes in my oven, it varies depending on what fillings you use.  
Hmm... this still looks raw, but it must be the cooked version, it's the only other pic I have.  Well just bake yours and it will come out looking similar, but done!

 Let rest for 15 minutes, cut and serve warm.  What are you waiting for, dig in!

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