Friday, October 29, 2010

A Book To Recommend: Put 'Em Up!

Put 'Em Up: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook was another awesome find at the Mother Earth News Fair. Yes, it's a canning book, but it's nothing like your average Ball Blue Book. The book is filled with beautiful photos of canned food with endearing hand-labeled tags. And the recipes are interesting and unique. Vinton covers the canning basics at the beginning of the book and then launches into the recipes. The book is organized by ingredient in alphabetical order. This is a unique way of organizing a recipe book, but it makes sense to me! You can choose whatever ingredient is in season and try all her recipes. For example: for beets she has Pickled Beets with Cumin and Cloves, Pickled Beets with Dill, Beet Relish. Vinton also has a simple picture key that shows at a quick glance the various ways an ingredient can be preserved.
The only downside is that there aren't enough recipes per ingredient. Only 3 recipes for beets! I'd love to see more of what can be done in canning some of these things. Below is what you can find inside:

Table of Contents
Part One: Techniques
-Food Preparation Methods
-Food Preservation Methods
-Working in Groups
- Things That Will Get You Into Trouble
- Things That Look Bad But Aren't Dangerous

Part Two: Recipes
- Apples
- Asparagus
- Beans
- Beets
- Berries
- Cabbage
- Cantaloupe
- Carrots
- Cauliflower
- Cherries
- Chilies
- Citrus
- Corn
- Cucumber
- Fennel
- Figs
- Garlic
- Grapes
- Herbs
- Mushrooms
- Onions
- Peaches
- Pears
- Plums
- Radishes
- Ramps and Scapes
- Rhubarb
- Strawberries
- Summer Squash and Zucchini
- Sweet Peppers
- Tomatillos and Green Tomatoes
- Tomatoes
- Watermelon

Overall, this book is a great adventure into canning, whether for the beginner or for someone more experienced. You just might find a new favorite recipe!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Makin' It From Scratch: Chocolate Almond Coconut Bars

Oh heavenly almonds, chocolate, and coconut!

If you like Almond Joy candy bars, then these are for YOU! I was eating a piece of my son's Halloween candy, an Almond Joy, and as I was thoroughly enjoying it I was thinking, "Hmm. I wonder if I could make these." I did a search online and Bingo! I found a recipe. The next day I whipped up a batch and WOW. Well, do yourself a yummy favor! You just have to try them.
P.S. You might have to share them. This recipe makes a lot.

Chocolate Almond Coconut Bars

7 oz. sweetened condensed milk (half a can)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
7 oz. (half a pkg.) shredded, sweetened coconut
7 oz. shredded, unsweetened coconut (I got this at the health food store)
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
12 oz. bitter sweet chocolate chips (or you can do 24 oz. total of just semisweet chips)
1 cup whole dry roasted almonds*

Blend the condensed milk and vanilla. Add the powdered sugar a little at a time until smooth.
Grind up the coconut in the blender until the coconut pieces are really small. Stir the coconut into the condensed milk mixture. The mixture should be firm and roll into a ball.

Press the coconut mixture firmly into a greased 9x13x2 inch pan. (a smaller pan for thicker coconut bars) Greasing your fingers with butter helps. Chill in the fridge until quite firm, about 2 hours.

In a double boiler over hot (not boiling) water, melt the chocolate stirring often until smooth and all the chocolate is melted. (I put the chocolate in a glass bowl over a saucepan of water.)

Remove the coconut mixture from the fridge and cut into 1x2 inch bars. Put 2 whole almonds atop each bar.

(For this next part work quickly because if the coconut mixture gets too warm it starts to fall apart.)

Set each coconut bar with almonds onto a fork and dip it into the chocolate. Tap the fork against the side of the pan or bowl to remove any excess chocolate. (Be careful. The almonds will slide off!) Place on a waxed paper-lined tray to set. Once the chocolate is hard, enjoy! Makes about 38 bars.

(I had to put mine in the fridge to set. I don't think I let my chocolate temper long enough.)

* For homemade dry roasted almonds, put raw, whole almonds on an ungreased cookie sheet in a 350ºF oven and bake for about 15 - 20 minutes. Allow to cool before using. After cooling, test an almond to make sure it's done. It should be very crunchy and not chewy at all.

NOTE - 11/02/2010: Dipping the bars tended to be really difficult and a friend of mine who tried it also had a hard time. I think if you poured some chocolate in a bowl, put the bar on that with the almonds, and then poured the chocolate over it, then lifted it out with a fork, it would be much easier. I'll have to try that next year.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ricotta Cheese

I made ricotta cheese for the first time last week. I was amazed, AMAZED, at how easy it was. Why haven't I been doing this all along? I used the ricotta for some lasagna which I made using 7 noodles. It was awesome and so tasty. Why buy ricotta - which is really expensive - when you can make it in under an hour yourself?

How to make Fresh Ricotta Cheese:

(From chickens in the road)

1 gallon fresh whole milk
1 teaspoon citric acid
1 teaspoon cheese salt

Pour milk into a large stainless steel pot. Add the citric acid and cheese salt. Heat on medium-high until the milk reaches 195 degrees.

It will seem as if it takes a long time to achieve the proper temperature, but you’ll get there in under 30 minutes. (You can’t just stick your heat on high because you’ll scorch the milk–I set my burner right between medium and high). Stir infrequently, just enough to avoid scalding the milk on the bottom of the pan. (I just move the spoon around the bottom of the pot gently every few minutes.)

You’ll notice curds beginning to form on the surface of the pot.

Keep checking the temperature using the dairy thermometer.

By the time it reaches 195 degrees, the milk will have separated into curds and whey.

Isn’t that awesome? You’ll feel as if you’ve performed a magic trick the first time you do it.

Turn off the heat and let the pot sit for about 10 minutes. Cross your fingers the cat doesn’t wake up and eat it when you’re not looking.

After 10 minutes, line your colander with the butter muslin.

Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the curds to the muslin-lined colander.

Look at that! Is that cool or what?

Once all the curds are transferred to the colander……

….tie the muslin together.

Then tie it onto your sink faucet.

Let drain for another 30 minutes, or to desired consistency. (There are numerous uses for all that leftover whey, but that’s a whole ‘nother post!)

When the cheese is finished draining, untie the muslin and transfer the ricotta to a container. In this case, I used two pint-size glass jars. Store in the fridge for up to two weeks, and use as you would with any ricotta–only this is better because you made it. I see Pepperoni Lasagna!

Behold! Cheese!!!

The recipe calls for cheese salt, but I just used non-iodized table salt.
I also used organic milk. The fresher the milk the better. You can use regular milk too. Just don't use ultra-pasteurized milk because it won't make cheese. If you use organic milk, check the container.Some of the big organic milk companies ultra-pasteurize their milk to make it last longer.

Give this cheese a try. You'll be amazed too!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Most Amazing Pizza Sauce EVER

My husband and I are picky about our pizza sauce. It has to be thick, rich, and immensely flavorful. After all, the sauce is what sets off the flavors of everything else on the pizza. The following recipe fits the bill for us. I found it on Pioneer Woman's food blog posted by ericalea. I've added a few of my own adjustments. I wonder if I'm able to can this stuff....

(Amazing) Homemade Pizza Sauce

1 lg. or 2 sm. cans tomato paste (should equal 12 oz.)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
4 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2/3 cups water (approx.)

Mix all ingredients together until thoroughly combined. You may like to put in more or less water according to how thin or thick you like your sauce. Spread it on your prepared pizza dough and you're ready to go!
Makes enough for 1 1/2 - 2 pizzas (depending on how thick you like your sauce.) Store extra sauce in the fridge.

What we like to do with our leftover sauce is to make mini pizzas a few days later using toasted whole wheat homemade bread and any leftover pizza toppings. Broil them in the oven and they're an easy, tasty lunch!

PLEASE try this stuff. It is amazing.

Fancied-Up Tomato Soup

My whole life I've eaten tomato soup from a can (the condensed kind). My mom would usually add milk, but I never liked it much. My husband makes it using water, which I like much better. Tomato soup was never really been my favorite. Usually, I'm not much of a "soup" person because I have this weird thing against liquid food. It just makes me gag after a bit.

Then came the wonderful day when we tried the Tomato Basil Bisque from our grocery store. Oh my goodness! I had no idea tomato soup could be so delicious and so classy!
Recently, I tried to recreate the soup using canned soup, since that wonderful store stuff is $4 for a pint. Yikes!

So, here's my version:

Fancied-Up Tomato Soup

1 can condensed tomato soup
1 can of water (using the tomato soup can of course)
1 can diced tomatoes, including juice
1 Tbsp. dried minced onions
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, sliced thinly
dash of garlic powder
dash of cayenne pepper (for a little kick!)
dash of freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup cream (more or less according to your taste)

Whisk together the tomato soup and water. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the cream. Heat until simmering. Stir in the cream right before serving.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Book to Recommend: Don't Throw It, Grow It!: 68 windowsill plants from kitchen scraps

When I was looking around at books for sale at the MEN Fair, this book just sucked me in. It was the quirkiest, weirdest book about growing that I'd ever seen. I had to get it, especially with the fun growing potential with my kids.

This book teaches you how to grow everything from peanuts to pomagranates to pineapples all from the seeds and roots and tops that you would normally throw away. (Did you know you can grow new leeks from the rooty ends you cut off?)

Each plant entry features the common name, the Latin name, plant type, growth rate, method of growing, light requirements, a detailed description of what the plant looks like, how to grow it and what the fruit tastes like. Throughout the book there are also interesting, related origin facts. The book is filled with fun, retro art drawings of the plants and the easiest plants to grow are marked with an "EASY" starburst. The text print is green with accents of darker green and bright orange used in the artwork. The green text is rather soothing on the eyes. A helpful index is also located in the back.

1. nitty-gritty growing techniques
2. plants from common vegetables
3. plants from fruits and nuts
4. plants from herbs and spices
5. plants from latin america
6. plants from asia

The only downside is that leeks aren't mentioned in the book. I think it's got a good overview of a lot of plants, fruits, and seeds you can grow from scraps, but obviously not all are mentioned. Some plants I've never heard of are mentioned, so while I don't know if I'll ever grow or eat them, they are interesting to read about. It would be nice if the book was spiral-bound as well so the book can be laid flat for easier reading-while-doing.

Overall, this book is a fun, funky read that gets me really excited about growing something on my windowsill this winter. It helps bring exotic plants to your own home and trying the plants described in its pages is an adventure waiting to happen! I think it would make a great gift for gardeners at any skill or age level. Check it out!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mother Earth News Fair

To celebrate my 30th birthday, my sweet husband took us all to the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA on the 24th - 25th. It was a 3 1/2 hour drive (5 if you count a nursing stop and a crazy amount of traffic on the PA Pike) and as you can see from the picture above, it was beautiful! The trees were just starting to turn. The fair was packed. Every class I went to was standing room only. And don't even ask me about lunch time. Insane. But it was a lot of fun with my family and I learned a lot from the 3 workshops I was able to attend. (We only went on Saturday.) Not to mention I bought a few books, a Mother Earth News t-shirt, a beautiful wood honey spoon and wooden toaster tongs. Cool! Happy birthday to me! Yay!

I wanted to share a little of what I learned, so here it is in a nutshell:

Promoting Heirloom Apples and Heritage Animal Breeds
- It's important to share the story of a particular heirloom apple or seeds or animal breeds to get people excited about it. Like "I got these seeds from Ol' Betsy down the road who's been growing this tomato for 50 years."
- There are thousands (about 14,000?) varieties of apples; we only see a dozen or so varieties in the stores. The heirloom strains will disappear if we don't advocate them, share them, and grow them.
- Grow the apples that have been in your area for a long while. These have acclimated to the climate and will survive the best.
- There are hundreds of abandoned orchards with unidentified apple trees. If you have one near you, find out what kind they are. It could be a long-lost heirloom apple!

Growing and Preserving Heirloom Tomatoes
- get your seeds from seed savers exchanges
- when saving seeds, give the heirloom plants some distance so they don't cross breed and isolate the flower with a fabric bag that will grow the tomato you want to save the seeds from
- to save the seeds, scoop out the pulp and seeds from the tomatoes and put them in a container with some water and let it sit or "ferment" for 48 hours. This dissolves the slimy sac around the seeds. Also, the good seeds will sink to the bottom and the bad seeds will stay floating in the ferment soup. Pour out the "soup" until the seeds are left. Dry on a screen with plenty of air circulation. When you're sure they're dry, label and store in a glass jar. (This is so the little moisture in the actual seed won't evaporate.)

Sustainable Beekeeping
- The golden rule of beekeeping: Let nature take its course. If the bees don't put it in the hive, you don't put it in the hive.
- Bees have been around thousands and thousands of years and have survived without us. They know what they're doing.
- When starting new bees, it's best to do it in the spring to give them a chance to build up their winter stores. Don't harvest your honey until the next spring, so that you're sure they've got enough food through the winter.
- Don't give them sugar water when starting out, give them honey! (See the first tip.)
- Top bar hives are pretty cool. It allows the bees to build natural-sized honey comb instead of providing them a comb and dictating to them what size to build.
- If bees want to swarm, let them (it's perfectly natural). Just make a new home available for them.
- Let bees naturally reselect their queen when the old one is slowing down instead of you replacing the queen every year.
- You will get stung. (Yikes!)

This fair was loads of fun (even if it was insanely packed), and I will be posting book reviews soon of the books that I bought! Yay!
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