Archive for the ‘how-to’ Category

Brad’s not a big fan of my homemade yogurt. It’s completely unflavored and if I’m being honest, a bit boring to eat alone. Recently he discovered Chobani Greek yogurt and I decided it was about time that I try my hand at it. He loves the consistency of the Greek stuff. It’s thicker and richer. Only problems? It’s expensive and then we have lots of yogurt containers that need dealt with.

Here’s what I do:

I make my usual plain yogurt using whole milk. Then I take 5 or 6 cups of it and hang it in several thicknesses of cheese cloth. I let about 2 cups of whey drip out. This takes about an hour, 2 tops.

You can check the consistency of it periodically. Don’t worry about draining it too long. You can always stir some whey back in to thin it out.

Then throw it in a bowl with the fruit sauce of your choice. I use homemade pie filling which I make using about half the sugar called for. Depending on the sweetness and fruitiness that you want, you’ll probably want to use 1 to 2 cups of fruit to the 3 to 4 cups of thick yogurt.

Stir it all up! Since the yogurt has been at room temp for a while, I always chill it before we eat it.

Fruit sauces we like: cherry, strawberry, and blueberry.

The verdict? He loves it! So do the kids and I. We are eating a lot more yogurt now that I’ve turned it Greek. The only problem is using up all that whey. Any good suggestions besides making bread and pancakes?


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Saffron Harvest

A few years ago my grandma gave me a few saffron bulbs. I planted them in my herb garden and promptly forgot about them.

And I continue to forget about them every year until October when they start blooming and I suddenly notice the bright purple blossoms among the dead and dying herbs. I’m always slightly surprised. And then very excited. I love harvesting the stuff.

It’s quite easy, too. Mid-morning, on a nice, sunny day, simply pick the blossoms…

…and pull out the red stigmas. There’s always 3 in each flower. Then let them dry before putting in a jar and storing in your spice cabinet.

The saffron blooms only last one day so it is important to check your patch every day and harvest accordingly.

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I know, I know. I’m probably going to scare some loyal readers away with this post. It’s against all food safety rules and regulations. But you know what? It’s not dangerous. My family has been doing this for years and never once has anyone become sick from improperly canned meat (or any other home canned food, for that matter, that I know of anyway).

If you are terrified of botulism and other such things, rest assured that if you DO open up a jar of spoiled meat or veggies, you WILL know it. Your nose will tell you. There’s no way you’d get anyone to eat it. And besides, even if there IS something nasty present, bringing the food back to a good boil before eating it would kill everything.

I have an aunt who will open a jar of cold beef and snack on the chunks. She hasn’t gotten sick yet. I think it’s weird, but perfectly fine if that’s her snack of choice!

That being said, it’s not my fault if you DO get sick. Just so you know.

But you really shouldn’t fear getting sick. It’s unlikely. Really.

But don’t blame me. I didn’t force you to eat it.

But you won’t get sick. I’m sure of it.

So, don’t be scared! Even if you don’t have a pressure canner, it’s possible to can meat. I’ve done it twice, well, actually, three times. But the first time I will admit that I was scared of the soup. The cats had some pretty deluxe chicken corn soup meals. But the second time was beef veggie soup and I had the courage to taste it. It was absolutely delicious. We loved it. It felt weird to eat that first jar but once we got over the initial jitters, our tummies settled down and we enjoyed the meal.

This year, I don’t know if I’ll can any soups but I did can beef chunks. It was fun! We learned that the guy we are buying beef from HAS to get his steer butchered at the end of August. That’s when my freezers are fullest. I wasn’t happy to hear that. But I went and gathered all of the roasts from last years beef purchase and thawed them out, cut them up , and canned them. It cleared a tiny bit of space but not enough. I’ll have to work on canning some more things, I believe. Maybe I will do some soups after all?

So here’s how to do it, if I haven’t yet scared you away.

1. Acquire your meat, fresh or frozen. If it’s frozen, only partially thaw it as it’s easier to cut half frozen meat then thawed meat.

2. Trim off large chunks of fat. It’s okay (and good) to leave a little bit on but big pieces are unnecessary.

3. Cut your meat into chunks. Any size will do but the smaller they are, the more you’ll get in each jar. If your meat is still partially frozen when you cut it, wait until it’s completely thawed to fill the jars as the frozen chunks don’t pack in very well.

4. Fill your clean jars almost full and then add 1 teaspoon of salt to each quart.

5. Place a little more meat on top of the salt to bring the level up to the bottom ring on the jar (or slightly above).

6. Boil your lids.

7. Wipe the top rim of each jar with a clean, damp cloth.

8. Place the lids on top. *Take note that I did not put any water in the jars. The meat will form it’s own juice as it cooks.

9. Screw on the rings nice and snug but not extremely tight.

10. Place the jars in the canner and fill with water to cover the jars by about an inch.

11. Bring the canner to a full rolling boil and boil (with the lid on!) for an hour and a half (or two if you are feeling unsure about safety).

13. Remove the jars from the canner to a newspaper lined cookie sheet and let cool completely.

14. Notice that the liquid level only comes about 2/3 up the meat. That’s okay.

15. Remove the rings from the cooled jars and check for good seals by gently lifting up on the lid with your fingertips (it’s not necessary to lift up the whole jar, just pull up a little to see if the lid comes off). You can also just tap the top of the lid and if it pings, it’s sealed. If it makes a dull thud, refrigerate that jar and eat it soon. Then wash the jars in hot, soapy water before storing in a cool, dark, dry place.

Canned Beef

Recipe told to me by my grandma

beef cubes

salt (1 t per quart)

Stuff your beef cubes into jars. Add 1 teaspoon of salt per quart. Bring the level of the meat up to the bottom ring on the jar. DO NOT ADD WATER. Wipe the top rims of the jars and top with sterilized lids and then rings. Place the jars in the canner and add water to cover by an inch. Bring to a boil and then boil for 1 1/2 hours, or 2 hours if you are a little scared. When the timer beeps, remove the jars from the canner and let cool completely before removing the rings and checking for good seals. Wash the jars in hot soapy water and store in a cool, dark, dry place.

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*Once again, I do not necessarily follow the tested methods of canning. But this way works for me.

I love me some pickled beets. So sweet. They are such a pretty addition to a bland winter plate. And beets are loaded with nutrition, though the amount of sugar used might just counteract with that.

1. Acquire a large bowl of beets.

2. Scrub them, leaving the tails and 1/2 inch of the stems attached. This is to keep all the color and nutrients from bleeding out while they cook.

3. Put them in a big pot and cover with water.

4. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer until soft, about 45 minutes to an hour.

5. Drain and let cool until you can handle them.

6. Cut off the tops and tails and peel them. The skins just slide off. It’s fun.

7. Cut into little bite-size chunks and put them in a pot.

8. Admire your pretty purple philanges.

9. Put your jars in the oven and preheat it to 220.

10. Bring your lids to a boil in a pot with water. Turn off heat and keep covered until ready to use them.

11. Put the pot of beets on the stove and add the sugar and vinegar. The level of the juice should be about even with the beets.

12. Bring to a simmer and keep at a simmer while you fill the jars.

13. Take a hot jar from the oven and fill it with beets and juice, bringing the juice level to within 1/4 inch of the top of the jar.

14. Wipe off the top of the jar using a clean, damp cloth.

15. Top with a lid and screw on a ring, tight but not too tight.

16. Let cool on the counter before removing the rings and washing the jars in nice, soapy water (if necessary).

Pickled Red Beets

Adapted from my grandma’s recipe

7 1/2 pounds  fresh red beets, roots and 1/2 inch of stems still attached

3 cups cider vinegar

4 cups sugar

Put the whole beets in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until soft, 45 minutes to an hour. Drain the water and let cool until handle-able. Peel the beets and cut off the roots and stems. Cut into 3/4 inch cubes.

Put the cubed beets, vinegar, and sugar in a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve. Reduce heat and keep at a simmer while you fill your hot, sterilized jars with the beets, bringing the beet level up to the bottom ring and the juice level to within a quarter inch of the top of the jar. Top with hot lids and rings. Let sit undisturbed until sealed, about 18 hours. Remove the rings, wash the jars (if needed), and store in a cool, dark, dry place until ready to use. Best if left to sit about a month before opening.

Yield: about 4 quarts

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Dill beans are a great alternative to the standard pickle and people usually love them. I almost always serve them to company. Nobody ever complains.

Dill Beans

Recipe from my aunt Krista

green beans, both ends removed but left whole (maybe 1/2 pound per quart?)

garlic cloves, slightly smashed and peeled (1 per quart)

dill heads (1 large per quart)

hot peppers (2 per quart, optional)

8 cups vinegar

8 cups water

1 cup pickling salt

I use dill heads that are just over the pollinating stage (almost starting to look like seed heads). I’m not a fan of pollen floating around in my jars.

Stuff 1 dill head and 1 clove of garlic in each quart jar.

Laying each jar on it’s side, stuff it with the straightest green beans you can find. Straight ones fit in easier. I held the dill back with my scissors to make the job look a bit neater.

Stuff in as many beans as you can.

Boil together the vinegar, water, and salt (the above amounts should easily do 7 quarts). Pour over the green beans to within a quarter inch of the top of the jars.

Wipe the lips of the jars with a clean, damp cloth. Top with sterilized lids and some rings. Place in the canner and fill with water to cover by an inch or so. Bring to a rapid boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the jars sit in the canner for 5 minutes. Remove the canner lid and take the jars out, setting them on a towel or newspaper lined cookie sheet. Let cool completely before removing the rings, washing the jars in warm, sudsy water, and storing in a cool, dark, dry place.

Don’t worry if your beans look wrinkled. They plump back up over time. It’s best to let these sit a month or so before opening them.

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I like to grow heirloom veggies and save the seed from year to year. Some things are easy; they self pollinate and don’t ever cross-pollinate with other varieties of the same vegetable. Squash need a little more attention. Different varieties easily cross by way of bugs and bees and if you don’t hand pollinate them, the next year you’ll have zucchini with goblin faces and butternuts without the bell shape.

I have successfully used this method for two kinds of squash: Thelma Sander’s Sweet Potato Squash (a winter squash) and Ronde de Nice Summer Squash. Two years ago I saved seed from each of these and this year they are looking swell. I planted them last year, too, but a flood took out all my squash so I was left with nothing. I was upset, to say the least, but I still had more seed so we’re trying again this year!

A tip from an annoyed gardener: Don’t let your puppy watch you pollinate the squash. She will come back later and rip off the ones you so carefully handled, leaving you with no choice but to repeat the process all over again the next day. And then the next day she’ll follow your trail and still find the zucchini you so carefully covered with a large leaf. Not sure how I’m going to attempt this a third time. Sprinkle it with cayenne pepper? Run all over the yard and make a confusing scent trail? Suggestions anyone?

1. The night before, examine your plant and find a male flower that looks like it’s about to open. These shoot up on long stems and typically sit above the center of the plant. It should be looking fairly orange; not as green as it’s younger mates.

2. Also identify a female flower (preferably from a different plant…we don’t want any inbreeding now!). These are attached to the squash themselves.

3. Tie a twistie around the tip of the male flower to keep bugs and bees from entering.

4. Repeat with the female.

5. In the morning, pick the male flower.

6. Untie the female, trying to keep any bees from flying in.

7. Untie the male and watch it pop open. It’s fun.

8. Rip off the petals of the male.

9. Find the pistil inside the female flower.

10. Take the male and rub it’s stamen on the female’s pistil, making sure that pollen is exchanged.

11. To prevent bugs from pollinating it any further, tie a little plastic bag over the female flower. (The male can be chucked. He’s done.)

12. I also tie a twistie around the stem of the pollinated squash to help identify it later. This is especially helpful for winter squash. When lots of butternuts are hanging on and you have no idea which one you specially pollinated, all your work earlier in the season was for naught. So remember which one/s you did! For summer squash, it’s pretty easy to see which one you left grow. Hopefully you pick your squash every day and soon, the pollinated one will be a baseball bat compared to the small, tender and tasty ones.

13. Wait for the squash to fully mature (the skin should be hard…your fingernail should bend when you press on it.)

14. Pick the mature squash and store in a cool, dark, dry place for several month before breaking open and harvesting the seeds.

15. Wash and dry the seeds, if desired, and store in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place. Seeds should remain viable for a couple years.

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Sometimes I feel like Wonder Woman. A very tired Wonder Woman. Do you feel like that occasionally? On days where you just keep going and going? Like yesterday, for instance. I hopped slowly slid out of bed, jumped climbed into my clothes, and skipped drug myself downstairs and out the door. There were chores to do. Feed the dog. Get the paper. Feed the chickens. Water flowers.

Soon after, breakfast was needed. I made everyone pancakes because there were 20 pounds of blueberries in my fridge (and 20 in Grandpa and Grandma’s, too). It was a festive blueberry pancake breakfast, full of tired hollers of “sit back down!” and “would you please finish your pancakes?” and “don’t spill your milk!”.

And then there was harvesting. Green beans. Broccoli. Red beets. Those blueberries needed frozen, too. I set to work, dragging my unwilling feet behind me.

Green beans were first. I am SO glad to have Grandma around these days. (Not that I’m not normally glad!) She does my beans for me. After I pick them, I set her up with a bowl and bucket and she goes to town. I was able to cut, blanch, and freeze the broccoli and freeze 15 pounds of blueberries while she ended and cut beans. Thank you Grandma!

Jada helped her, too.

When they finished that, it was lunch time. A hodge-podge of leftovers, blueberries, and some cherry pie (recipe to come).

At 12:30, I blanched the beans and threw a load of laundry in the washer.

By mid-afternoon I was beat. Happy, but beat. The red beets were cooking on the stove so I sat my beat Wonder Woman rear on a stool and blogged. Don’t let all this complaining fool you. I am super happy about all this work! I should be ashamed of myself for even saying I’m tired. I’m privileged (and terribly thankful) to have so much food.

Now let’s settle in with a little how-to. I’ll give you some step-by-step instructions on freezing broccoli. At least, this is how I do it. As with canning, I don’t always follow what’s “proper”. I do like my mom and it works just fine for us.

So here’s the deal:

1. Procure a pile of broccoli and cut it into whatever size pieces you wish, including the stems (but not the thickest, tough part of the stem). I used to do large two or three-bite size pieces but last year I noticed someone (mom? aunt? grandma?) doing it in very small pieces. This made more sense since it takes up less space in the freezer and is easier to eat. Boy am I dense.

2. Give your little helper a piece, which he will promptly chew up and spit out.

3. Fill your blancher basket with broccoli and put the basket in the pot. Fill with water to cover. This is just to ensure that you have the perfect amount of water in the blancher. I don’t like when it’s boiling and I set the basket in only to find that not all of the veggies are covered in water.

4. Remove the blancher basket of broccoli and put the pot, covered, on the stove. Bring to a full, rolling boil.

5. Slowly set the basket full of broccoli in the pot, poking down any floating broccoli with a spoon.

6. Quickly cover and set the timer for 2 – 3 minutes. Small pieces for the shorter time and large pieces a bit longer. I think this is where my methods differ from the “proper” ones (tell me if I’m wrong). I’ve read that you are supposed to bring the water back to a boil (after setting the veggies in) before setting the timer. In my opinion, this just turns the veggies to mush. Till you cook them like this, freeze them, and then cook them again to eat, they would be so soft it’d be like eating baby food. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a baby anymore. I like my veggies to have a little more bite than that.

7. Anyway, while the broccoli is blanching, fill the sink with cold water.

8. When the timer yells at you, quickly remove the basket from the pot, allowing the water to drain back into the pot, and dump the broccoli in the sink full of cold water.

9. Swish the broccoli around a bit. Drain the water, which is now very warm, and fill with cold water and ice. You want to chill the broccoli pretty quickly. I know you can dump it straight into ice water but that takes tons of ice. I never remember to makes big bags of ice so I cool mine down with cold tap water first.

10. Drain the now cold broccoli in a strainer. Repeat steps 5 through 10 with as many blancher baskets of broccoli as needed, being sure to bring the water back to a full rolling boil between batches.

11. Dump the broccoli into large plastic containers in a 2 or 3 inch layer.

12. Freeze.

yup. blurry picture.

13. Once frozen, bust up the thick layers of broccoli by slamming the containers on the counter. Bag it up in big bags or individual meal-sized bags. And that’s that.

This is how I freeze lima beans, peas, green beans, carrots, cauliflower, and sugar peas. I’m probably forgetting some veggies, too. Just prep them how you please, blanch them for 2-3 minutes (depending on the size and density of the veggie), dunk in cold water, drain, and freeze. Pretty simple process, though it feels very overwhelming when there are so many other things that need done, too.

P.S. I finished the beets (I’ll post about them soon), hung up that laundry, made cabbage and hamburger casserole and roasted broccoli for supper (both will be posted about), disciplined the dog several times for chewing on my clothes pins, gave the kids snacks and kisses, and washed several rounds of large pots and bowls. Guess what I did in the evening? Cleaned up the supper dishes, crashed on the couch, tied shut squash blooms for hand pollinating tomorrow (more on that later), pulled some weeds, straightened up a row of unruly strawberry runners, lounged about outside in the yard with the kids, and finished this blog post. It was lovely.

Yes. I took the picture myself. Don't laugh. Brad wasn't home so I had to!

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