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Whole Wheat Tortillas

Whole Wheat tortillas are a snap to make at home.  While I really enjoy corn tortillas in order to make them you really should have a good tortilla press – such as the homestead tortilla press you can build for yourself.  Whole wheat tortillas don’t require a press – only a rolling pin.

Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas

Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas

There are two “tricks” to making whole wheat tortillas;

  1. Once you’ve kneaded the dough let the dough sit covered for at least a half hour
  2. Don’t use a seasoned or greased cast iron skillet – it will smoke.  I keep one cast iron skillet that is used just for the production of tortillas – corn and whole wheat.

It really is that simple to make great tortillas – and fresh tortillas are great in addition to being cheap to produce in your own home.

 

 

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Rhubarb Custard Pie

My rhubarb patch

My rhubarb patch

Rhubarb is a great plant to have in your garden and deserts made from it serve as an awesome culinary awakening for deserts to be offered up fresh from the new season. It’s such an easy perennial crop to have that you should be growing it.

There are so many great options for deserts and preserves using rhubarb but this has to be my favorite.  In fact it’s what I made with today’s first harvest of rhubarb.  The sweet richness of the custard combines so wonderfully with the bite from the rhubarb it’s an absolute delight.

Rhubarb custard pie components ready for assembly

Rhubarb custard pie components ready for assembly

I used whole wheat pie shells, but you could use shells made with white flour or purchased if necessary (but really, if you can bake something like this, and certainly if you grow some of your own food you should consider building a grain mill for yourself – it’s well within your capacity)

Even better this recipe can be whipped together in only a minute or two.  Click on the post title for the full recipe.


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Whole Wheat Pie Crusts

You might reject the idea of using whole wheat flour for pie shells and other sweet products.  That would be short sighted.  Whole grain flours add wonderful flavor that is missing from white flour where all the flavor has been removed.

A few amendments need to be made to account for the lesser ratio of gluten compared to recipes which feature white flour, but these are easily done.

Whole wheat pie crust rolled out on parchment paper

Whole wheat pie crust rolled out on parchment paper

I know a lot of folks are intimidated by the prospect of making pastry, and it can be a challenge to roll out and transfer the crust into the pie shell.  While you can chill the dough to make it easier to roll out an even easier way to get the job done is to roll out the crust on parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet.  Then place a pie tin on top of the crust, slip a hand under the parchment or silicon sheet and flip everything over, then gently peel the parchment from the crust.

If you have any breaks fix those by pressing the crust together with your fingers and trim the crust that overhangs the pie tin.

This recipe yields about five 9″ pie shells – if you make a double crust pie you’ll use two crusts.


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Philly Cheese Steak on Whole Wheat

Whole Wheat Bread in French Loaf Pan

Whole Wheat Bread in French Loaf Pan

Some ingredients make wonderful combinations – steak and cheese is just one such marriage that yields dividends for the taste buds, combine roasted sweet peppers and caramelized onions on a hearty whole wheat loaf and you have a meal that will see you cooking extra steak just so that your next meal can be this great combo.

Toasted Whole Wheat Cheese Steak

Toasted Whole Wheat Cheese Steak

My favorite bread to support a sandwich of this scale is my standard whole wheat baler twine bread – but made as dough and then laid out in a double french loaf pan.  These pans are great – making it easy to get a great loaf.

Let your steak cool to reabsorb the juices before you slice it.  I like to use the broiler to melt and brown the cheese, and of course make sure you’ve got loads of onions and sweet peppers.

 

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Peanut Butter Barley Cookies – Junior Baker Approved

Jumbo Peanut Butter and Barley cookies

Jumbo Peanut Butter and Barley cookies

Whole barley flour works wonderfully in a host of baked goods – in most cases I prefer it to whole wheat flour for cookies and sweet quick breads – and so does my junior baker.

You might have a bit of trouble finding whole barley flour unless you mill it yourself, but that is one of the advantages of having your own mill.

Barley flour peanut butter cookies ready for the oven

Barley flour peanut butter cookies ready for the oven

While I know that these could be scaled down to bite sized if you engage the junior baker the cookies are always going to be jumbo sized.  It’s not every cookie that will scale up nicely – but these do just fine, and you can adjust the baking time to suit the level of chewiness you desire – from wonderfully chewy to crisp.

Cookies are probably the greatest reason to get and use silicon baking sheets – they practically banish cookies with burnt bottoms, so don’t waste your ingredients or effort by forgoing its acquisition.

So, whether you have a junior baker or not these are great PB cookies so make yourself a batch.

 

 

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Don’t sweat the smoke

If you are familiar with electronics you may be familiar with the line “Don’t let the smoke out”… the idea being that electronics run on smoke and if you let electronics smoke… well you let out the working essence out and they cease to exist.

That’s all very cute, and you don’t want your kit to stop working but I wonder how much the fear of letting the smoke out keeps us from actually risking to fix our kit.

Bottom of the laptop along with replacement fan

Bottom of the laptop along with replacement fan

Case in point, the laptop I’m using now slowed way down… the issue – well it’s about four years old and the fan failed and that really kills performance.  Now it would have been easy to drop a few hundred and get a new unit.

But, if that is the alternative – giving up what you’ve got, where’s the risk in trying to fix it?  Let the smoke out and… well I’m no further back than I was if I had to get another machine.

So that”s what I did… I picked up a replacement fan off Amazon for a whole $7!  I backed up my files, removed the back of the laptop unscrewed the old fan and unplugged it.  Then I swapped in the new fan.  The job took about five minutes… and saved me somewhere around $250.

Replacement fan installed in the laptop, ready to replace the rear cover

Replacement fan installed in the laptop, ready to replace the rear cover

The computer is back to clipping along and that money is still in my pocket – actually it’s paying off my mortgage.  I’d consider that a pretty sound and low risk investment.

So the next time some of your kit starts to malfunction give some thought to repairing it rather than trashing it and buying another.

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A Homestead Wood Fired Pizza Oven – Getting the material ready

Taking the BBQ’s apart turned out to be pretty easy – for the most part.  The segments were joined by spot welds, rivets or screws and bolts.

Bending tabs flat with vice-grips

Bending tabs flat with vice-grips

I had been worried that the latter – the screws and bolts would create a problem, but for the most part the were made from stainless steel and disassembled easily enough.  A few of the screws were stubborn and needed to be ground off but those were the exception.

The rivets were handled by using the angle grinder to remove most of the head and then driving the remainder out.

Finally the spot welds were broken by progressively working a flat bladed screw driver into the gap until the weld broke.  In some cases this resulted in a bit of tearing of the material but for the most part a pretty clean break resulted.

The next challenge was to get the material back into flat sheets so that a proper inventory could be taken and choices made as to how to cut the pieces made.   To start I used vice grips to bend the tabs flat.  Then I simply stepped on them … and this did flatten them out enough to make further work on them more reasonable.

Minion 1 at work - safety glasses check... footwear?

Minion 1 at work – safety glasses check… footwear?

Minion 2 at work... pizza and fire - it's gonna be fun!

Minion 2 at work… pizza and fire – it’s gonna be fun!

I next attempted to finish the process with rubber mallets – assisted by the minions who are also hungry for wood fired pizza – that got us further along but not far enough.  I tried to follow up by using a ball peen hammer either directly or indirectly though a wood block… no dice.  Using the hammer directly left ugly marks and started to stretch the material – a counterproductive action, while using the wood block as the intermediary didn’t serve much more after we’d already used the mallets.

So then I hit up the 50 ton hydraulic press and it worked great.  I only used about 5 tons of force so using a jack under say a car might be an option for those without this advantage.  But hydraulic presses are reasonably priced and you certainly don’t need a 50 ton unit to accomplish this.  The sheets came out nice and flat, the seams were still visible but flat so layout should be easy after this.

Using the hydraulic press to reclaim stainless steel sheets

Using the hydraulic press to reclaim stainless steel sheets

So now I have a nice pile of flattened stainless steel sheets – mostly heavier gauge – some a bit light… some square, some rectangular and some oddities.  So my next step is to figure out what size of unit I have material enough to build… Stay tuned for more.

 

 

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Propagating hops by layering and rooting

So there are a few ways to produce additional hop plants.  You can divided the rhizomes (the root mass).  That’s easy and simple and great if you have enough established hop hills.  But… if you are just starting out you probably want to give your plants a bit of time to get established before you start engaging in serious division.  So I guess you could buy additional crowns… or you can use alternate means to multiply your own stock.

Fortunately hops want to root… you just need to present then with an opportunity to do so.

The new hop rhizome created by layering exposed

The new hop rhizome created by layering exposed

The easiest way to do this is by layering.  From a good crown you’ll get a bunch of bines – the first and strongest bunch train vertically for your production but additional bines can be run through soil in a large plant pot or window box  before being allowed to grow on or  trimmed.  The bines aren’t super flexible so think big curves not tight curves – which makes running them longitudinally in the window boxes a good option.  Keep the pots reasonably watered and the result should be about one crown per bine that was run through the pot.

But if you need to increase your stock even faster then you should probably considering rooting.  Last season I took a number of bine segments, dipped them in rooting hormone, stuck them in sand and had good success getting them to root in a home built mist propagation setup.  The setup was cheap and simple and while the layering method will result in one crown per bine the rooting method can take one bine and make a load of crowns – so if you are looking to rapidly increase your plant material it’s definitely worth the extra effort.

Hops rhizomes from rooted cuttings in sand - success for the two on the right

Hops rhizomes from rooted cuttings in sand – success for the two on the right

Exposed hop rhizomes created by rooting bine segments

Exposed hop rhizomes created by rooting bine segments

So, if you brew, buy crowns for your favorite hop varieties – they use vertical space so you can probably find a spot for them –  and multiply them to increase your own yard, share with friends or even offer for sale.

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If you are brewing you probably should be kegging

If you brew beer you should probably be kegging since the increased efficiency makes life so much easier, making it more likely for you to actually take the time to brew your own.

When I first started brewing beer I was in high school.  I don’t imagine that there were many other high school students who instead of being net consumers from their parents liquor cabinets saw the roles reversed.  That suited me fine since while I like a drink or two, getting drunk has never been my style and I needed the beer consumed so I could try another batch.

At that point I was putting my beer in plastic PET beer bottles.  That made sense since I was a poor student and I don’t imagine my parents would have been into having another fridge or freezer to keep kegs chilled with the bottles could easily go into the fridge door.

Ball lock (L) and Pin lock (R) kegs

Ball lock (L) and Pin lock (R) kegs

After getting my own place it wasn’t long before I took up kegging.  Used 5 gallon soda kegs – particularly the seconds that I purchased were cheap.  At $20 they were about the same price as 5 gallons worth of bottles.  Sure I needed to add the CO2 tank, regulator, hoses and fittings but those added only slightly more than a hundred dollars more to the total.   Toss in a used chest freezer and a temperature controller and I added another $100 to the cost.

So for a total cost of about $300 I secured a start-up for four kegs.  What I got was a whole lot of efficiency.

My cleaning routine with the kegs is much simpler than with the bottles, and I can clean a bunch of kegs at once, close them up and have them ready to fill when it is time to rack the beer in.

Kegs - L to R, 5 gallon ball lock, 5 gal pin lock and 3 gal pin lock

Kegs – L to R, 5 gallon ball lock, 5 gal pin lock and 3 gal pin lock – Note the height and diameter differences

The rest of the process is simply one of racking the beer from the carboy into the keg and pressurizing with CO2.  Fast, simple and none of the mess associated with trying to get beer into the bottles, which all ways saw me spill beer no mater what fancy gadgets on the siphon I tried.

By making the brewing process so much more efficient I find myself continuing to brew in spite of having a lot more on the go.  In fact, I still face the same challenge that I did in high school – getting the beer consumed quickly enough so that I can try the next couple of batches on my list.

So if you happen to be in the neighborhood maybe you can stop by to help me make room in my kegs for the next brew.

As a side note, the best place I’ve found for used kegs and the associated kit is Adventures in Homebrewing.  Their offerings are great, service spotless and their prices are awesome.  All of my kegs have been in sound condition and I’ve chosen the ones that they advertise as being the most dented and dinged!  The good news… they still have used soda kegs – they will probably dry up sometime but if you drink beer and either brew now or want to then now is the time to pick them up.

 

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A homestead wood fired pizza oven – the build begins

A few years ago I enjoyed pizza in a backyard wood fired oven at the Little City Farm B&B and since then have flirted with the idea of getting just such an oven.  That one was a Cobb oven and although the simplicity tempts me I just don’t think that material would survive for very long in Ottawa with the abundance of rain, loads of snow, and lots of freeze thaw action especially given I don’t want to build a shelter for it.

That leaves three alternatives.  Masonry stoves, but with these you get a very permanent installation that is going to cost a pretty penny. Then there is regular steel… cheap, easy to work with… but this material will rust and burn out. Then there is stainless steel… Looks good, it’s  durable and won’t rust or burn out, it should spot weld easily, but it is fairly expensive.

The lovely commercial mangiafuco wood oven

The lovely commercial mangiafuco wood oven

Oh, and did I mention that the Mangiafuoco oven I like is selling for $3,500 before tax? Cool oven but, uh, yeah, no. I think the oven is lovely but I don’t really want it that much…. plus truth be told it, there is an added coolness factor is having something that you’ve built yourself, and I haven’t done much work with stainless steel yet so it should present a good learning opportunity.

So, last summer I collected a load heavier gauge of stainless steel that folks were throwing away… in the form of BBQs.  See, here’s the crazy thing.  Way back when, propane gas grills were pretty much all cast aluminum painted black.  The burners would rust out and need to be replaced but the body would last and last… and if a neighbor happened to decide to upgrade and drag their old one to the curb… well those bodies made for an easy source of aluminum to cast in the home foundry.

Now though, most gas grills seem to fall into the single season (or maybe two) low end units made with regular carbon steel painted black OR much nicer and more expensive stainless steel.  I’ve  got one of the higher end models that is completely stainless steel that I managed to snag at the end of the season clear out with a further discount because it had a ding in the back of the lower housing.  With it plumbed into my natural gas supply I never need to worry about running out of fuel which is great.  I expect that I will have to swap in new burner tubes and covers at some point but apart from that can expect it to last decades.

But, it seems that there are a fair number of semi-stainless BBQs out there.  They have the visible parts like the lid and maybe the doors fashioned in stainless but the rest is made of regular cheap but rustable carbon steel…. which means… those pieces of stainless steel sheet get rolled to the curb when the bottom burns out and the owner decides to buy a new one.  So last summer I started grabbing these lids and doors when I happened to see them…. now it’ time to start the transformation from waste to that $3,500 pizza oven.

Stay tuned as the transformation progresses.  Did I mention that the  $3,500 price tag was before tax?