You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Cooking’ category.

Today I did something I’d never done before: I canned something.

It was a lot of hard work. There were a lot of panicky “OMG is this supposed to do that?!?!” moments, and a few times where I wished I could sprout another arm or four. But at the end of my experiment, I ended up with six quarts of beautiful, garden fresh green beans that I hope won’t give us all botulism. (Well, all of us except Wesley, who wouldn’t touch a green bean if his life depended on it.)

Heating in a massive stock pot

I followed instructions on this website, this website, from my canner manual, and from my mother-in-law. (By the way, the first website is a great one if you want to find pick-your-own farms in your area.) Consequently, I spent a lot of time running to my computer or flipping through the book. Sadly, neither the websites nor the manual gave me instructions on growing more limbs so I could do everything in a speedy manner, while everything was still hot.

Jars filled with beans.

The musical fruit

First lesson learned: Cut the beans smaller.

Second lesson learned: Boiling water is very hot.

Holding steady at 10 pounds!

It took forfreakingever to get to ten pounds of pressure. Finally it got there, and I processed for twenty-five minutes. Twenty-five minutes fraught with danger, where I kept screeching at the children to stay out of the kitchen in case the whole thing exploded.

But my canner is built like a tank. It’s an All-American, and will probably still be canning long after I’m gone.

Done!

Then more nail-biting after the jars came out of the canner. First I couldn’t get it open because it had created a vacuum. The manual suggested a screwdriver to pry it open, but also cautioned, “BE CAREFUL! YOU COULD TOTALLY SCREW IT UP FOREVER!!!” so I was nervous. I stuck a butter knife into a crack and pried gently and it popped right up.

More nerves. Had I put enough beans in? There were bubbles rising to the top. Is that normal? Is it supposed to do that? The second website reassured me that indeed, it was supposed to do that. And from their pictures, I saw that some of their jars had as much empty spaces as mine.

More screeching at the children to stay out of the kitchen, lest a jar explode. I’d just watched an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman in which Grace, the cafe owner, has a jar explode in her face and it gets embedded in her cornea, so I wasn’t taking any chances.

Then came the thrill of a lifetime. I felt the way the first caveman who discovered fire must have felt.

“Ping!”

“Ping! Ping!”

“Ping!”

The lids of my jars started popping as they sealed themselves. I did a happy dance.

Victory is mine!

Writing about quilts when it’s ninety-five degrees out with a humidity level of 10,000% seems a little crazy, but I’ve hidden myself inside and turned the air conditioner on, so I’m going with it.

Last November I took a quilting class at a little fabric store, with the hopes of finally covering my beds with beautiful homemade quilts. I was in the class with three other women (all of them in their mid-60s) and was (obviously) the least experienced and slowest sewer of them all. While they were zipping ahead on their quilts and talking about things like ‘cutting on the bias’ and ‘seam allowances’ and ‘selvages’ and other terms that sounded like Greek to me, I was sewing blocks together backwards and ripping out seams and cutting squares that looked more like octagons. (I must say, I rather mastered the use of the seam ripper, though. I’m a grade-A seam taker-outer now.)

And although the other three women graduated from the class with a fully finished quilt top, I came out with a half done quilt top, with mostly crooked squares and no binding around the edges. And I couldn’t be more proud of that crooked ugly thing.

My half-done quilt

 Someday I will actually finish this thing so it can take it’s place on Alice’s bed. All it lacks is one thin border and one wide border. Oh, and batting. And a back. And it needs to be quilted. And a binding around the edges. So…almost done. Right? Well, like I said. Someday.

At least there is one dedicated quilter in my family. Ryan’s grandma does a ton of quilting, and we were lucky enough to be given one of her beautiful quilts. She didn’t make it specifically for us, but she may as well have, because I love the colors and the style so much.

The beautiful quilt.

Now, don’t look too closely at the rest of my room, because we aren’t anywhere near done with it. But look at this quilt! Ryan’s grandma hand quilted this. According to her, she has four hundred hours invested in this one quilt! I cannot even imagine spending four hundred hours on anything. I spent a measly three hours on my quilt before I lost interest.

Look at those details!

It’s a scrap quilt, and no two blocks are the same fabric, except for the white blocks. And they aren’t a solid white, but a dark white with a faint lighter white flowered pattern on it. I adore the hearts and swirls quilted into the fabric. This was all done by hand. Some of the pencil marks are still on the quilt where she sketched her pattern out. (That orange and blue and yellow flowered block is my favorite in the whole quilt.)

Despite my iffy quilting skills, I actually did a lot of sewing over the winter. Most of the Christmas gifts we gave this year were handmade by me. I’ll be showing them off soon, I’m sure, on the next hot and humid summer day.

 But speaking of things I’ve made, the cherry crisp last night came out amazingly, and I don’t even really like cherries.

Our half-eaten cherry crisp

Unfortunately I forgot to take the picture before we’d devoured half of it. I found the recipe on All Recipes, although I followed some of the suggested changes. I didn’t use any shortening, nor did I add more butter to make up for it. I made it just as the recipe said, just without the shortening. If you use sweet cherries, be sure and reduce the amount of sugar you use. This came out the perfect combination of crispy and chewy. Delicious!

We’re on a super tight budget these days, so we’re always looking for ways to save money. You can’t get much cheaper than free, so we’ve been on the lookout for all kinds of free food lately.

Our first source for “free” food is our garden. It’s not exactly free, since we paid for the seeds, and we’ve watered it once or twice. (Although the insane amount of rain we’ve had lately has taken care of that for awhile!) And of course, we’ve poured tons of labor into tilling, planting, and weeding. We’ve eaten a lot of fresh green beans recently, because it’s the only thing that’s producing so far. But man, are they ever good! Steamed green beans are Alice’s new favorite food, as long as they have plenty of parmesean cheese on them.

I can’t wait until the rest of our garden is producing! From the looks of things, it’s going to be fantastic.

Possibilities...

 

Green Hot Chili Pepper

Of course, there are even free-er sources of food than the sweat and labor of your own garden. Like…the sweat and labor of someone else’s garden.  Our dinner last night included green beans from our own garden, and spinach greens from Ryan’s cousin’s garden. Two whole bags full of fresh spinach greens for free. Not bad!

Dinner!

Ryan spent an hour picking cherries for his grandma and brought home a nice size bag of fresh cherries. I spent an hour pitting them, and they are currently in the freezer, awaiting their fate as a cherry crisp. (Can’t make cherry crisp until I make it to the store for whipped cream. Who can eat crisp without whipped cream?)

Thanks to my awesome aunt’s awesome mom, we also get all the farm fresh eggs we can eat, and they’ve given us some (butchered) chickens. Delicious!

So despite our super tight budget, we’re eating better than ever. You really can’t beat organic, garden fresh food. My mother-in-law handed me a squash the other day, and I’m sure there would be more where that came from…if I knew what to do with it! She suggested that I chop it up and put it in stir fry, or fry it up, southern style. I’ll probably go with the latter, even though frying it probably negates any health-benefits of fresh squash!

In the fall we pick up pecans from my mom’s yard, and my stepdad has blackberry bushes on his farm that we may take advantage of this summer.

This is the great thing about living in a rural area.  Even if you don’t grow it yourself, you can usually find someone else who does. I’m going to have a ton of watermelon this year, and I hope I can find someone who would like to trade me for blueberries!

Yup, that would be me.

When I started this whole thing about a month ago, I had decided I would be a lacto-ovo vegetarian. That means that I would eat dairy and eggs, but no meat. Well, since then, I’ve been a lacto-ovo-meato vegetarian. That means, in plain English, I suck.

Yup, that’s right. I’ve had meat since I swore not to. Not a lot, maybe once or twice a week, which is still a vast improvement. However, every time I eat it I feel furtive and guilty.

My main reason for failure is that it is HARD to figure out what to eat for dinner in my house. Ryan, as I’ve mentioned before, is a major carnivore. If there isn’t meat on his plate, it’s not a meal. And since he does all the cooking in the house…well, lets just say eating peanut butter and jelly or a salad gets old really fast.

It’s also tough when we go to someone else’s house, or out to dinner, to find other options. We aren’t exactly surrounded by fine vegetarian options out here in the boonies, so when we eat at one of the several grease-pit options, it’s a choice between eating french fries and still being hungry, or getting the cheeseburger.

At least I’m not being a big vegetarian poser. I stopped calling myself a vegetarian after the first time I had a tenderloin. Which was about four days in. Whoops.

I’m still working on it, though. Eating less meat is a good start. Most smokers need a patch or gum to quit smoking. Apparently, I need a burger every so often to quit my habit.

I have made the most delicious granola ever! I thought I’d share my recipe. It took me a few tries to get it just perfect, but I’ve now got it down. Most of the recipe came from the Better Homes and Gardens Baking Book, but I’ve changed a few things.

 You can basically do whatever you want to granola to make it your own. If you don’t have an ingredient, skip it. The only absolutely necessary ones are the oats, honey, sugar, butter, and some type of flour. The only optional ingredient I use is the ground flax seed, because I don’t like the other things.

2 1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 cup flour (all purpose, wheat flour, wheat germ)

Optional ingredients:
1/8 cup raisins
2 T ground flax seed 
1/8 cup nuts
1/8 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1/8 cup coconut
(If you choose all of the optional ingredients, add an extra tablespoon or two of honey)

Preheat oven to 300. Lightly grease cooking sheet, and toast oats (and sunflower seeds, nuts, flax seed, and coconut) in oven for 20 minutes. In small saucepan, heat butter, brown sugar, and honey until butter melts. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Raise oven to 350. Mix flour in with oats. Stir in brown sugar mixture until well coated. Bake for 5 minutes, then stir. If adding raisins, do it now. Bake additional 5 minutes. Spread onto wax paper and allow to cool completely.

Delicious with milk, yogurt, or just on it’s own! It goes really fast around our house, so I’m going to have to start making a double batch.

I know a lot of people were interested in my recipe for making butter, so I thought I’d share. For comparison’s sake, I thought I would include the ingredients list for my usual margarine of choice, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Honestly, I can’t believe it hasn’t killed us yet: water, liquid soybean oil, salt, sweet cream buttermilk, xanthan gum, soy lecithin, polysorbate 60, lactic acid, potassium sorbate, calcium disodium edta (used to protect quality, natural and artificial flavors, vitamin a (palmitate), beta carotene (for color)

Compare that to the ingredients in the butter I made: Milk, salt. That’s it.

First, you need to obtain some fresh, raw whole milk. (If this is unavailable, you can also use heavy cream or whipping cream) If you have the raw milk, skim all the cream off the top of the milk. Let the cream come to room temperature.

Now you churn. I use Tupperware’s Quick Chef. You could also use a blender, stand mixer, or a good ol’ fashioned jar with a screw on lid. (Some people recommend putting two marbles in with the cream, to help churn.) If using a blender or mixer, stop frequently to scrape the sides with a spoon.

As to when you stop, you churn until, as the old timers call it, the butter comes. I’m sure a blender or mixer will make the job much faster, but if you choose the Quick Chef or Bell jar, it’s gonna take awhile.

In fact, I watched about half an episode of American Idol churning my butter. I kept opening the lid to peek inside and see what was happening. Just when I was thinking that I must have done something wrong, the sound of the cream sloshing through the paddles changed, and in an instant there was yellow butter floating in the cream.

Scoop all the butter into a bowl to work it. Use the back of a spoon to smush the butter up against the side of the bowl, squeezing out all the buttermilk. Keep dumping all the buttermilk back into your jar or bowl, and keep working the butter until you don’t see any more buttermilk. This is very important, because if any buttermilk is left it will go rancid. (According to the website I found, anyway. I wasn’t foolish enough to try it myself. This website has a lot of interesting old timey stories on it.)

Once all the buttermilk is worked out, you have to rinse it. Put a small amount of water in with the butter and smash it all around. Then repeat the process of squeezing it all out. The water will be cloudy. Do this until the water is clear. It took me about six or seven times to wash it.

Now salt it to taste. Sprinkle a little salt over it (the website recommends one teaspoon per pound of butter.) Stir it around and taste it. If it needs more salt, add more. If you’ve used too much salt by accident, you can add more water and work the salt back out.

And now you are done! I used about three cups of cream and got about a half cup of butter out of it. So it takes a LOT of cream to make butter!

I used the leftover buttermilk in Ryan’s birthday cake, which came out fabulously. (My very first cake made from scratch!) I’m not sure if it’s what you buy in the store labeled ‘buttermilk,’ but it worked great in the cake. (Okay, a quick search of Google tells me it is not, in fact, what you buy in the store. That’s cultured buttermilk.)

If you want a fun project to do with your kids, give them a baby food jar with a little cream and a marble inside and let them shake it until it turns into butter. Since they won’t get much butter from it, you can just add some salt and skip the working part. As long as you eat it right away, you don’t have to worry about getting all the buttermilk out.

Have fun!

Ahh…once again the smell of baking bread wafts through the house. But this time, there is bread to enjoy after smelling it for an hour. Yay! It’s good!

In fact, since it was just Wesley and I tonight, (well, and Alice, but since she doesn’t really eat food yet I’m not counting her) we had fresh baked bread and smoky cheddar cheese, purchased from the Mennonite market, for dinner. Yummy!

I have to admit, half the appeal of homemade bread, for me, is feeling like a pioneer as I knead the dough and put it aside to rise. I feel like Ma Ingalls, working the dough with two children tugging on my apron strings blue jeans.

                                                   Eggs

Tomorrow, there will hopefully be homemade butter as well. We made a trip to an organic, family-operated farm this morning to purchase fresh, raw cow’s milk and some eggs. Aren’t the eggs pretty? I just love that they are different colors. The green one is my favorite. I’ll probably put off using it until the very last so I can admire it each time I open the carton.

                                                        Milk and cream

I skimmed the cream off the top of the milk and put it in my Tupperware Quick Chef with the paddle attachment. I bought the Quick Chef two years ago and have only used it about four times now, so I’m glad to have a reason to use it. The butter directions I found said to bring it to room temperature first, so it’s currently sitting on the counter, hiding under a towel. Why the towel? Well, because Wesley freaks out when he sees the Quick Chef and wants it. He neeeeeeeds it. He MUST have it, absolutely that instant, or all shall perish a most painful death: Death by Whining.

Anyhow, I’m excited to see how the butter turns out. It’ll have to wait until Wesley goes to bed so I can churn whine-lessly.

I bought the enamelware pitcher at the Mennonite market today to hold our milk, because the glass gallon jars are super heavy, and I could picture myself dropping one on the floor and shattering it.

I wondered how Wesley would react to the new milk. He’s very picky and resists any changes. I poured him a cup of milk and waited while he took a drink.

“Huh?” he asked, peering into his cup. Then he grinned and downed the entire cup. “Please milk!” he requested, holding the cup out to me to refill.

So I guess it’s good! I’m not a big milk fan, and can really only drink it with a big cookie or bowl of oatmeal, so I’ll have to wait to see if I like it.

Wesley drinks a LOT of milk, so I was really interested to see the many benefits of raw milk. Definitely check that site out, and be sure to read about the health benefits. It’s amazing!

All in all, it was a productive day on the homestead.

                                          The bread

Mmm…homemade bread The smell wafts through the entire house as it bakes, making stomachs growl. Looks good, doesn’t it?

Except…not. This was the worst loaf of bread in the history of bad loaves of bread. It weighs as much as a small child and tastes like paper mache.

Of course, it kind of IS paper mache. See, in my quest to avoid foods filled with high fructose corn syrup, which is in e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. from the obvious (soda pop and candy) to the not so obvious (bread and crackers) I’ve decided to start making my own bread.

Unfortunately, I decided to start when my pantry was low on ingredients. I didn’t have quite enough flour, no sugar, no milk, and very little butter. Rather than go out in the cold and brave the icy roads to go and buy these necessary ingredients, I found a recipe that none of these were needed. My recipe called for yeast, flour, and water. Mmmm.

What was I thinking? I mean, I know how these three ingredients taste. I know how they taste combined. Why did I think that any amount of kneading, rising, and baking would change this bland, tasteless dough into a tasty bread? Because it didn’t.

At least it was cheap entertainment for Wesley. He was suitably impressed when I floured the table and dropped the sticky mass into the flour.

“Mama make a mess?” he asked dubiously.

Yes, indeed. Since I didn’t have enough flour, the dough was incredibly sticky and worked it’s way into every crevice on the table. No amount of kneading was turning it into the ‘smooth elastic dough’ the book described. So I tossed it in the pan anyway.

When the bread was done, it actually looked like bread. Wesley pointed at it and repeated, “Mama make a mess?” He took the small slice I cut off for him and ate it.

“Yucky bread!” he announced. I sighed. My child is the pickiest eater in the entire world. Come on, kid, it’s homemade bread! I took a bite and –

“Blech! Yucky bread!” I exclaimed.

My fabulous husband Ryan, who does most of the cooking in our house, tried to rescue it by making it garlic bread to go along with our roast chicken. The chicken was amazing. The bread, not so much.

 Lesson learned: next time, get off your lazy butt and get to the store!

So the birdies had a feast this morning. Although I think I heard one of them chirping, “Yucky bread! Yucky bread!”

Sigh. It’s a LOT of work.

Television used to be my fall-back for entertainment for Wesley. Bored? Go watch Mickey Mouse. Your sister is sleeping? Be quiet, and sit and watch Tom and Jerry. Hey, look! Little House is on! Let’s watch!

But then I realized what a couch potato my sweet little guy was becoming. And I realized it was all my fault. (Well, mine and my husband’s.) Any time the T.V. was on, he was glued to the set, even if all I was watching was something on HGTV. And seriously, what two year old should be interested in House Hunters? So I cut the cord.

Okay, not literally. I would probably die without my weekly Lost fix, not to mention the other thirty-seven shows programed to be recorded on my TiFaux each week. But during the day, when Wesley is awake, the television and computer stay blank.

So instead, we color, clean, and bake. It’s amazing that unloading the dishwasher is great entertainment for a toddler. He takes great delight in handing me everything, announcing with pride the name of each item. And even more amazing, it’s actually helpful. Because Alice is rather clingy and loves to be held, I generally do everything one handed. With Wesley’s help, I can actually unload the dishwasher in a relatively short amount of time.

Then we move on to sweeping. I took a section out of my Swiffer so it’s just the right size for him, and together we get the sweeping done. I’ve even started making him rinse his plate and cup and put them in the dishwasher after each meal, and every night before bed we pick up the toys. And, surprise, surprise, he actually likes doing these things.

We also do a lot of baking. It’s a good quiet activity when the baby is taking a nap. Wesley perches on the counter top and helps pour cups of flour and sugar into a bowl and stirs. (And stirs and stirs and stirs. Stirring is his favorite thing to do.) So far we’ve made cookies, cornbread, and two different types of muffins. Of course, when it’s time to STOP stirring and pour it into the pan, he freaks out and throws a massive fit, so I have to have another activity for him to do immediately to head off the fit before it wakes his sister. Our latest baking creation was muffins from a “Deceptively Delicious” recipe that contained applesauce and pureed squash. It was actually really good! All twelve muffins had magically disappeared by the next day. (My husband wasn’t pleased to learn he’d unwittingly eaten squash. Poor baby.)

But each day I still get a little panicked to think that it will be another loooooong day without my favorite babysitter. On the plus side, Wesley is happier and my house is cleaner than ever, so it’s totally worth it. I have to admit though, at the end of the day, after Wesley goes to bed, I’m so happy to turn on the T.V. and spend some quality time with the remote.