Thursday, December 14, 2017

Gravy Tips & Hacks

I am not a great cook, but I excel at making gravy.  Sunday biscuits and gravy was one of the few food-related family traditions we ever had in our home.  My friend who would "bring shame to her family" if she ever used canned beans (excellent cook), uses powdered gravy because she has never figured out how to make gravy.  Puzzled, I thought to myself...what is so hard about gravy?  Then I wondered more seriously...What IS so hard about gravy?  I discovered that what is 2nd nature to me after a lifetime of gravy indoctrination actually has many pitfalls!  I have hacks that I never regarded as "hacks" and here they are...

Warning! Don't expect a recipe.  The thickness and consistency has to be adjusted as you observe how the gravy is behaving.  You can find recipes all over the internet and YouTube to get an idea of estimated proportions.

Broth Talk
Meat broth is essential to your gravy success.  Bones make the best broth.  Anytime I cook meat, I de-glaze the pan with water and save that liquid for soups and gravy.  My husband refers to my broth as "juice."  We frequently cook a whole chicken in a crock-pot.  We like to have unflavored, shredded chicken on hand for quick meals.  The boiled meat is rather bland because the flavor is now in the BROTH!  The remaining greasy golden liquid we call "chicken juice."  It has no onion, celery, spices, or additions besides salt and black pepper, so it is very versatile and therefore rightly referred to as juice.  

Oven roasted ham, turkey, beef leftovers always find their way into a soup, stew, or gravy in my house.  After harvesting the edible meats from a turkey dinner, the carcass/neck/giblets/skin/fat/drippings all get pushed down into the roasting pan, water to nearly cover and back into the oven for a couple of hours to create broth magic!  Using far too much water will make a thin broth with mild flavor.  I prefer intensely flavored broth that gels firmly (as it is easy to dilute flavors, but difficult to boost later).  I transfer the resulting meat juice (be it beef, pork, ham, turkey, shrimp tails, etc) into a microwave-safe plastic bowl and refrigerate overnight so the fats separate and float to the top in a thick lardy layer.  Then into the freezer with a label with date and animal.  Small yields from de-glazed pans which often have more flavors from spicy dishes may go into a ice-cube tray which I later transfer to a freezer-bag.  These ice cubes often go into mixed vegetables so I don't mind if they are not "clean meat juice" and have additional flavorings.  Larger amounts of broth that have vegetables or spices may be better utilized in soups and stews than in gravy, but might compliment a gravy and give a desirable depth of flavor.  Straining of bones and bits need to be done at some point, but I will let you decide at which stage you do this.

My first hack is BIG!  Do not attempt to use the drippings from what you are currently cooking!  Use broth from a previous meal!  Refrigerated or frozen broth will change your life!  Straight out of the freezer you can scrape off the lard.  Lard layer can be lifted off of refrigerated broth with a fork, but you will have to pat dry with a paper towel to remove all wet broth gelly or you'll have popping grease during the next step.  Brown your flour in that lard in a skillet or sauce pan.  Later, when I tell you to add only cold liquid to your rue, you will be grateful you aren't having to cool down the hot drippings from your current project to make gravy.  It allows you to control how much fat goes into your gravy so it isn't greasy.  And this allows you to prepare the gravy AT ANY POINT in your cooking process instead of having to wait until the meat is done resting in it's own juices to remain moist.  You'll thank me when you get to my instructions to stir constantly without distraction to avoid lumps (nearly impossible to do while throwing the finishing touches on your meal moments before serving!)  NOTE:  The smaller the mouth is on your plastic container, the thicker your lard layer will be.

Rue Hacks
Make a loose rue for even browning, and then add a tablespoon or so of flour to thicken the rue until it is clumping up on the spoon but all the flour gets 'wet' with oil.  Ensuring that the lard is all spent into the flour will keep you from having greasy gravy even if you have to use fresh broth that hasn't separated in the next step.  I like a deeper browning for beef and a lighter for all others, but you do need it to be fragrant and show a color change.  The deeper browned rue will thicken broth less than lighter rue will so you may need to adjust your broth measure.  (Rue is your flour/lard paste.)

Lard vs Oil
I always use home-harvested lard for my gravies (not that snow-cap stuff that comes in a tub).  Bacon grease is fantastic for milk gravy.  I don't recommend using broth and lard from two different animals, except turkey and chicken which I use interchangeably.  Duck Fat might be another exception to that rule, but I have limited experience with it.  Butter can be used with many meats, but you must tolerate the browned butter, "nutty" flavors that will develop as the milk solids brown while making your rue and may burn in a darker rue.  Vegetable oil won't add any flavor, so I would opt for an intensely flavored oil like extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil...but you can see these would color your entire meal, and you should restrict their uses to meals where they would complement rather than overpower.

Flour vs. Cornstarch
Cornstarch adds no flavor, and is strictly a thickening agent.  I find that I have to add other flavors to cornstarch gravies such as Kitchen Bouquet or Worcestershire (for beef or venison only), but I love making a light gravy for roasted chicken with lemon and either rosemary or a hint of lavender.  Giblet gravy is an acquired taste, but it is best with cornstarch.  I like giblet gravy if the giblets are pureed.  If I totally goof and make really runny gravy that won't thicken any more no matter how long I cook it...I will add a slurry of cornstarch and cold water.  Flour adds its own flavor if used correctly.  Always brown flour to some degree in a rue.  Flour and water slurry is going to add an unpleasant flavor--I would not do this unless it was do or die.  Flour will make an opaque gravy, whereas cornstarch gravy will be translucent.  If I have to use the drippings from the meat I am currently preparing, I will opt for cornstarch so that I don't end up with a double portion of fats (lard from a rue plus the fats suspended in the new broth).  Gravy is greasy enough without being greeeezy!  TIP:  You can cool the hot drippings and help fat to separate (and be skimmed off for the garbage or for the rue) by adding the iced broth cubes you've stored up previously!

Additions of water may be necessary because of the intense saltiness of ham drippings or bullion additions, but beware that water will dilute any flavors you've built into the gravy so far.  For most gravies, broth is a better choice to thin out the consistency (or milk in milk gravy).  Chicken broth is a nice way to extend your turkey drippings which never seem to yield enough drippings to make a generous batch of gravy.  And let's face it, you don't want to eat turkey leftovers once you've run out of gravy!  Any liquids you add to gravy or rue, including water, should be COLD and incorporated quickly by vigorous stirring.

Adding Broth to Rue
As soon as your rue is browned and thick, drop whatever you are doing!  Make certain nothing else is going to divert your attention!  Tell everyone you are starting the gravy and cannot be bothered!  Recruit help in the kitchen to attend to the bread that is soon to come out of the oven!  Ready?!  Add COLD (but thawed) broth in generous amount to your rue paste and whisk like it's your job!  At first, it will seem that the cold liquid and rue clumps aren't mixing.  Medium heat is fine.  Just keep stirring.  As the mixture warms up, the motion must pull away warm layers from the clumps gradually.  As the liquid gets cloudy and homogeneous, you can slow down a bit on stirring, but if flour settles to the bottom of the pan you risk lumps.  If you still have lumps of rue, and the liquid is "gravy thick," add more COLD broth.  When all of the flour is properly suspended, you have gravy!  Taste for salt content and adjust flavors.  Make sure to allow it to bubble for a full minute.  If the gravy is a little thin, cook a little longer to reduce.  This will concentrate flavors.  If the gravy is very thin but the rue lumps have completely dissolved and it has bubbled for 1 minute, you need to remove from heat, and add a slurry of cornstarch and cold water.  Try 1/2 Tablespoon of starch to 2 Tablespoons of cold water--you only want to introduce enough water so that the cornstarch can be dispersed completely into the water.  Pouring your slurry through a fine sieve will ensure you aren't adding lumps (Add lumps, get lumps!). Add the slurry to gravy all at once and whisk like a mad woman to avoid lumps forming).  Once incorporated, set back on stovetop at medium heat and make certain everything bubbles for a minute.  Once you serve the gravy it will start to cool and thicken.  Often more liquid must be added when reheating refrigerated gravy as the starch reaches maximum absorption. 

For milk gravy, just treat milk as your "broth" and follow these same instructions.  Add pork breakfast sausage (not the maple kind!).  Sage, black pepper, and red chili powder make it mine!

For green chili, make your gravy with pork lard or vegetable oil (I know, I said not to use oil!), and pork broth.  Add cooked pork meat (chunks or shreds), diced tomatoes, and diced roasted green chilis!)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Nail Art Decal Printable Mat Template (design and placement guide)

Printable download in .pdf & .jpg format.   For full-scale fingernails, print in actual size, in landscape mode, at 100% scaling.  This works well for petite adult fingernails of average length.  8.5X11" paper.  Do NOT create decal directly to the paper copy!  Place the guide under a clear cutting board or a clear storage or freezer bag, or sheet protectors, and apply polish to it!  This guide sheet can be cut apart and repositioned under the mat to customize the layout and if you goof it up, just print yourself another one!

I designed this mat for use with clear cutting boards sold in a 2 pack at Dollar Tree, but you can also create your polish decals on Ziploc storage or freezer bags or sheet protectors.  After hearing many complaints about the high price and awkward design of various silicone mats my stamping buddies experienced, as well as the difficulty they had in safely removing decals, I opted to use clear cutting boards I purchased at my local dollar store.  My sister thought I was crazy, but when she lifted a decal off of my mat, she was convinced to use them herself.  I love the clear mat because I can turn it over to see my work at any time.  I can also slide colored papers under to swatch background colors without committing to a polish color as I'm building the decal.  But a blank mat needed more structure, so I created my own printable mat guide.  I find that it helps me with placement of stamping design with center and diagonal marks, eliminates waste by defining the nail size (from pinky to thumb), and I also utilized the sizes of popular stampers for additional references.  I created a white set and a black set of nails, but you can print them on colored paper in the foundation colors you like to work with most.  The round circles should correspond to any round stampers you have and work great for smoothy or smoosh techniques.  Thin coverage of these often require swatching a base color, so it is the perfect thing to create on a clear mat.

Highly recommend using the GLOSSY side of the dollar store cutting mats.  They are a nice size for protecting your table surface, defining your workspace.  Mine came in a 2 pack so you can create with a stamping buddy too!

NOTE:  I made this guide available very cheaply, so I hope you will encourage your beauty buddies to download rather than sharing the document you purchase.

© Kinsmade 2017

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Fermented Vegetables are Pediatrician Approved

I'm still trying to convince my husband to try my homemade fermented vegetables. He asked me not to feed them to our 2 year old son until I cleared it with his pediatrician. The doctor said that it was perfectly safe--safer than unfiltered raw honey (which is only a concern for babies under 1 year old).   My son isn't a fan of sour things yet.  My husband eats a pickle every day with lunch, so I think I'll convert him eventually.

Today, I learned that fermented vegetables have less sugar than pickled vegetables because the yeast converts the sugars to lactic acid. This is another selling point to use on my diabetic husband. 

My sister-in-law drinks pickle juice since her gall bladder surgery, and she seems open to trying my fermentation liquids.  I don't clearly understand the medicinal use here, but she swears by it.  The probiotic aspect of this product no doubt plays a role in digestion.  I just don't know what losing a gall bladder does to your system or how probiotics help relieve symptoms.

I got a yogurt maker at my neighbor's yard sale--$2.00 and it had never been used.  I was really pleased with the yogurt I was able to make with it--creamy and I can control the tartness by lengthening or shortening the processing time!  I love fruit/yogurt smoothies, so this will be great.  But it only makes 4 little jars at once, which doesn't keep up with my consumption yet.  I need 4 more jars to rotate so I can have 4 in the refrigerator and 4 in the yogurt maker.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

More Fermenting (2nd attempt)

I was given a huge head of cabbage and 6 lbs of carrots. That is too much for our little family to eat up in a timely fashion, so I decided to ferment them. This will be my 2nd attempt (I was very pleased with the 1st). I used Himalayan pink salt again with boiled (then cooled) tap water (last time I used bottled water). I used the nicest outer leaves of the cabbage instead of any sort of “starter” since you can see the blue hazy yeast on the dark outer leaves. I cut the washed carrots into spears because I liked the way they pack the jars without floating up and they serve well in that form. I was careful to cut the spear lengths to match my varied jar heights, packing each jar as I was cutting. I added some powdered ginger to a few jars (this time I didn't have fresh ginger on-hand). I ended up with a lot of bits of carrots because of fussy cutting, so I threw those into a blender with some of the salt brine as well as the bulk of the inner head of cabbage and made that into a pulp. I also added some fresh comfrey herb to it from my garden. The comfrey, I've been meaning to use medicinally, but haven't gotten around to it, so this was a way to utilize it. Comfrey shouldn't add much flavor since it really doesn't have any. I intend to use these blended, pulpy mixes as last minute additions to soups or blend with olive oil for a quick salad dressing. I did two baby food jars of carrot with fresh catnip leaves just to experiment with flavors.

When I went to the garden for the comfrey, I noticed that I have a lot of sage to harvest. I have a lot of dried sage already, and nothing is as good as fresh sage in a cooked dish. That gave me the idea to ferment it. But how? I had used up all of my cabbage and carrots at this point, but still had salt brine. Then I spotted that large zucchini that I hadn't yet found a use for.  I had read that zucchini was difficult to ferment without turning to mush, so I decided to go straight to mush and start it out as pulp. I used a big handful of fresh sage leaves and made the zucchini/sage pulp in the blender (with a few dandelion leaves). The zucchini/sage mixture doesn't have anything for starter except the fresh leaves (no cabbage). That will be amazing to brighten up a beef/mushroom/barley stew!

I still had a little brine left. So, I made a couple of small experimental jars. I had read something online about a corn relish (fermented), but felt like this needed garlic and jalapeno which I didn't have on-hand. So, I carefully broke off each kernel from the cob (not sure why I didn't just cut them off, but I note it here because the juice wasn't released which may affect how it ferments). I diced up some mini red bell peppers (mild) and added it and the corn to a jar with a comfrey leaf.

To the last bit of brine, I diced up a mandarin orange rind and added a teaspoon of dried elderberries. I added a piece of comfrey to the top and weighed it all down by inverting a soda pop lid before putting on the lid to the baby jar.

I did half of this project yesterday, and so I was relieved that some effervescent action is already present in some of the jars! I was a little nervous without my raw kraut juice insurance policy this go-a-round.

TIP: To ensure that my jars were clean, I rinsed them out and while they were wet, microwaved the lot of them for 1 minute. Be sure to let jars cool before filling.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Crochet Bug is Catching On!

Mesa has designed a cute new hermit crab potholder with her new crochet skills!

Hermit Crab Food Trials: Hermit Crab Potholder or Fish Bowl Mat: I'd love to see this used as a mat for a fish bowl!  I created it with lime green yarn and a white yarn that had bright turquoise flec...

Friday, March 11, 2016

New banner

Now that I have so much more graphic design experience, I thought I'd give our shop banner a face lift.  What do you think?  I didn't want to stray too much from our branding. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Veggie Fermentation Attempt

I've been reading up on fermenting vegetables and I went a little crazy on my first attempt. I got it in my head that cruciferous vegetables have the right microbes for fermentation and I LOVE cauliflower in all it's forms. So, I decided to pair purple cauliflower and purple cabbage. And, I got some organic kale (the kind that looks like elephant or dinosaur skin—can you tell I'm not a botanist?), organic carrots (skin on), a piece of fresh ginger and a Cara Cara orange (for the rind), and some fresh garlic cloves.

First, I made the brine by emptying two 16oz bottles of bottled water into a glass dish and microwaving it for 90 seconds to which I dissolved 2 Tablespoons of fine Himalayan pink salt. As that was cooling, I washed all of my vegetables in lukewarm tap water.  (I had to make one more 16 oz batch of brine before I finished all of my jars).

My first square jar has carrots cut into sticks (skin on), a ginger slice (skin on), and a 3/4” X 4” strip of orange rind, and a dash of red pepper flakes. It looks PRETTY!!! I made a little version in a jelly jar with carrot discs and omitted the red pepper flakes in case baby wants to try them.

Next, I tackled the big jar with the strawberry graphics on the side and the big mechanical top. The seal was old and cracked so I hope keeping the lid closed will do the trick. I packed it with a bunch of the 'dinosaur' kale, several garlic cloves, ½ jalapeno, sliced red cabbage. In a blender, I made a pulp from the outer leaves of the purple cabbage, a bit of the brine (once cooled to room temp), garlic cloves, and a tad more jalapeno. And added about 2 Tablespoons of that pulp. My mom gave me her Swiss kraut juice (digestion aid from the health food store), and I added a teaspoon of that hoping that it might work as a 'starter yeast' as one recipe indicated. I used my glass disc that is supposed to keep pasta water from boiling over to weigh the contents down.

I made a smaller version of this adding freshly ground black pepper and whole coriander seeds in a square jar.

Then I made little sticks out of the succulent part of the cauliflower leaves, and used the green leafy parts to make a pulp as before. I added a good-sized piece of 'dinosaur' kale, a ¼ teaspoon of tumeric powder, and a sliver of jalapeno and a small garlic clove. Perhaps a dash of black pepper...if memory serves. That went into a baby food jar and looks very pretty and uniform.

Then I made a mode-podge of nearly all of it in the tall molasses jar, using an extra portion of pulp.

Lastly, I made one without the kraut juice and without the pulp: Just sliced ginger (skin on), a few pieces of elephant kale (folded into tight little bundles) and added coriander seeds. I'm hoping this will be great with Asian food. If it works well, I might like it with match-sticks of ginger instead of slices. The slices are a scant 1/8” wide and about an inch across. That was packed tightly into a babyfood jar.

Now we wait and see. I will check it in the morning and add brine if any vegetables are exposed at the top. If it is an epic fail, I'll share that too (since I didn't find any examples of this process going bad on the internet). It is very possible that I don't understand the principles at play.

NOTE:  Updates will appear in the comments--not as another post.

Monday, January 25, 2016

New Artist: Tiffany

I want to introduce you all to my sister-in-law and bosom buddy:  Tiffany.

She is a talent!  She and I have crafted together on multiple occasions in multiple mediums.  Most recently, since the birth of her 9 month old daughter, she has been crocheting up a storm!  She hosts scrapbooking retreats for the family and creates amazing greeting cards.  She is an avid recycler, and often finds amazing ways to re-purpose and upcycle.  She loves hosting parties featuring adorable center pieces, decorations, delicious food--not to mention lovely invitations.  We hope to see more of her innovative paper crafts, sugar scrubs, and canned goods actually make it into our storefront in the next few months.

I wish I had better photos of her handi-work, but here's just a small sample:

Monday, May 18, 2015

Men's Western Collar Tips - Vintage (F.L. Thorpe Black Hills Gold) Landstrom

A recently widowed friend of my Grandmother asked me to sell her late husband's collection of Western collar tips.  I'm going to have to research these items well before listing them for sale so that I can get her the best prices possible.  I haven't decided whether they would be best sold on Etsy or eBay.

Each piece has distinctive charm, but I was especially impressed with the Black Hills Gold set.  They have a black powder-coated finish with real 10K Black Hills Gold Trim and are diamond cut.  The maker is F.L. Thorpe of Rapid City, South Dakota which sold out to Landstroms in 1995.  Landstrom was sold to Mount Rushmore Gold last year.  After some preliminary research, I'm thinking that they value about $200, but with the original case and accompanying documentation, perhaps we could get a little more.

Check out my Men's Vintage pinterest board