Spring Cleaning From Chicken Coop to Kitchen
(And What To Cook When You’re Done)
By Janice Cole, Minnesota
The chickens are always a little frantic as I begin to clean, wondering what’s happening to their little world, but they’re all so happy to be out in the spring sun with a light breeze blowing that no one complains too much. They follow me around the coop and yard getting in the way as I sweep out the used bedding, rake and cart away the old straw and clean out the nest. Of course, they also try to drink the soapy water as I scrub their drop pans and we all end up a little messy by the end.
It would be great if I could spring clean my whole house just by using a rake and a broom as I do the coop, but no such luck. While spring cleaning my entire house is a great goal, it always seems a little too daunting and too many things get in the way. I’m better sticking with smaller goals, like concentrating on the kitchen. I try to take one or two tasks each day and in a week or two the kitchen is organized, clean and I’m ready to start back cooking.
In addition to scrubbing out the corners, spring cleaning is a good excuse for organizing my cookware and the pantry so I’m ready for spring and summer cooking. What I cook varies greatly through the seasons. All through winter I’ve made a lot of stews, soups, roasts and baked goods, but now that spring is here I’m ready for grilling, quick sautés, steamed vegetables, stir-fries and salads. Lighter fare to reflect the weather and the local fresh produce I’ll soon be using. Therefore, I rearrange my cupboards by putting the heavy cast-iron stew pots to the back and pulling forward the wok, steamers and sauté pans toward the front.
I try to use up any winter-style canned goods and the heavy pastas and grains are switched around in favor of delicate linguine and quinoa. While you’re into the canned goods, obviously check the expiration dates. With items that are still good but that you know you’re just not going to use, give them away to someone who’ll put them to good use. My husband is not a condiment guy, so even though I have loads of mustards in the fridge to satisfy my cravings, if I have more than I’m going to use in a set time I try to pass them off to someone who may appreciate them. Check your spice shelves and rather than using a rigid time frame for getting rid of spices, let your nose tell you what’s good. Do the sniff and taste test, and if you have trouble identifying a spice, it’s ready to be tossed. If it still smells great keep using it. Also, get your canning jars and canning set easily available and ready to go with clean jars, fresh lids and fun labels.
Don’t forget your freezer. Now is the time to defrost and clean it out so it’s ready to hold this year’s bounty. Use up the last of the produce, egg whites and meats you froze last spring and summer so that you’ll have space ready to go when the rhubarb and strawberries are at their peak and the green beans keep coming. Don’t forget your chickens when cleaning out your kitchen foods. That ½-cup of frozen beans that looks like a large ice cube found in the corner of your freezer will be a great treat for your chickens when thawed. They don’t mind freezer burn, so thaw and serve.
Wiping out the dish and glass cupboards is always a good thing but difficult to make a priority. Even if you can’t get to every shelf, try to take stock of what you’ve got and rid yourself of the unmatched glasses, ballgame cups your husband’s beer came in and the relish dishes someone gave you that you’ll never use. Trust me, you’ll feel better and have more space just getting rid of a few things. It’s also a good time to take stock of your kitchen towels. If they’re ready for the rag pile (anything that has a stain that won’t come out is a good candidate) transfer them over and buy something on sale to brighten the kitchen.
Get your knives professionally sharpened. I do this once or twice a year but spring is the perfect time so your knives are ready for all the produce you’ll be cutting up. No more slipping on tough carrots and slippery tomato skins. Also, remember that sharp knives are actually safer than dull knives.
When You’re Done: 10-Minute Salmon
I love this method of cooking fish and/or chicken – a complete meal, including vegetables is ready to eat in 10 minutes. Some of you may know this as cooking in a pouch from camping or Scouts. I learned it as Salmon en Papillote while studying French cooking. Whatever you call it, it’s a great way to get dinner on the table when you’re pressed for time.
1/3 cup thinly sliced carrots
1/3 cup peas or sliced asparagus or green beans
1/2 cup sliced leeks or shallots
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 (6-oz.) fillets salmon, skin removed*
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon or chives
4 (12-inch) sheets parchment paper or foil
Heat oven to 425ºF. Fold and crease parchment paper in half; cut into half-moon shape. Open flat. Divide carrots, peas and leeks between parchment and arrange in the center near the fold. Top with half of the butter; sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Place salmon over vegetables; top with remaining butter, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle with tarragon. Using small folds, fold parchment paper around salmon folding and creasing well. Tuck end under. Place on large rimmed baking sheet.
Bake 10 minutes or until salmon just begins to flake when gently pressed. Use scissors to cut open parchment.
*Tip: Chicken breasts can be substituted for salmon; baking time may vary – cook until chicken is no longer pink in center.
When You’re Done: Rhubarb-Strawberry Tea
Keep a jug of this thirst-quenching brew ready in the fridge; it’s the perfect cooler after the hard job of cleaning the coop or spring cleaning your house.
8 oz. rhubarb, thinly sliced (2 cups)
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
1/2 cup water
6 cups brewed black tea, cooled
Sliced fresh strawberries for garnish
1. Combine rhubarb, 1 cup strawberries, sugar and water in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-medium-low and cook 15 minutes or until rhubarb is soft and falls apart and strawberries are very tender. Refrigerate until cool. Strain, pressing on solids; reserve rhubarb-strawberry syrup.
2. Combine black tea with rhubarb-strawberry syrup in a large pitcher. Serve over ice and garnish with sliced fresh strawberries.
Tip: For an evening cool-down, kick it up a bit by adding a shot of Cassis (black currant liqueur), gin, flavored vodka or tequila.
Copyright Janice Cole (2015)
10 Essential Spring/Summer Pantry Items
Helpful items for great warm-weather cooking.
1. Extra-virgin olive oil
While this pantry staple is useful all year long, it’s absolutely essential this time of the year for garden fresh salads, herb pesto and pasta.
2. Assorted vinegars
An assortment of vinegar from balsamic, to red and white wine vinegar, apple vinegar to rice vinegar is useful for marinades, salad dressings and making your own flavored herb vinegar from your herb garden.
3. Coarse sea salt or flavored salt
Try flaked sea salt such as Malden or smoked salt or jalapeno salt to jazz up your grilled meats and vegetables. How about smoked chile salt on your hard-cooked eggs?
4. Nonfat Greek yogurt
Use it for marinating meats (perfect for tenderizing chicken), creating sauces (such as cucumber-dill) and toppings for cereal and fruit. It’s also great swirled with whipped cream for a decadent dessert topping.
Skip the sugar this season and opt for honey for sweetening iced tea, lemonade and mojitos.
6. Canned beans
Take the heat out of cooking dried beans and go for canned this season. A staple for a variety of salads, great addition to quick vegetable pastas and perfect to puree for vegetable or taco dips.
Stock up on almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts to add variety to salads, fruit desserts or your favorite cereal. Store them in the refrigerator to keep them tasting fresh.
8. Olives, capers or artichoke hearts
Having these at your disposal will brighten up salads, pastas, and pizza.
Look for quick-to-cook light pastas or fresh pasta that blends well with fresh vegetables and local cheeses for quick meals, potluck salads, and pesto.
10. Couscous, quinoa and/or rice
Keep these quick-cooking grains in your cupboard for side dishes, main courses, and grain salads.
When You’re Done: Egg And Asparagus Toasts
These gorgeous toasts topped with fresh asparagus, spring chives and oozing perfectly poached eggs shout spring. They’re the perfect way to showcase your freshly laid spring eggs. Quick to make, they fit the bill anytime of the day from breakfast to supper; perfect when you’re busy spring cleaning.
4 diagonal slices baguette
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 oz. fresh asparagus, sliced 1 1/2 inches
4 freshly laid eggs
1/4 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Toast 1 side of baguette slices in olive oil in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Place on serving plates.
Meanwhile, bring 1 to 1-1/2 inches water to a boil in medium saucepan. Add as-paragus and boil 1 to 2 minutes or until asparagus turn bright green; remove from water (keep water simmering). Pat dry and place asparagus over toasted baguettes.
Add eggs to water in saucepan; cover and remove saucepan from heat. Let stand 3 minutes. Remove eggs with slotted spoon; place over baguettes. Sprinkle with Parmesan, chives, salt and pepper.
2 to 4 servings
Copyright Janice Cole (2015).