Showing posts with label Recipes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Recipes. Show all posts

Feb 25, 2015

Making Farmer's Cheese in a Crock Pot - a From Scratch Recipe

In 2013, I posted about how I was going to learn to make cheese. I bought a bunch of specialized
ingredients and a few tools, and attempted to make mozzarella - supposedly a good choice for beginning cheesemakers. Well, it was awful. Terribly grainy and rubbery. I figured it was probably the milk I chose to use (which I think was ultra-high temperature pasteurized, even though it wasn't labeled as such), and planned to make another attempt with a different brand of milk. It never happened.

But it's always been in the back of my mind that I need to give it another go...even though I thought that meant buying all new rennet and other specialized cheesemaking ingredients. Then I saw the March/April '15 issue of Backwoods Home magazine. In it, Leah Leach writes about making a type of cheese I'd never heard of before: Farmer's Cheese. The recipe was instantly appealing to me because it required only ordinary, everyday ingredients: milk, butter, and lemon juice.

Why Make Your Own Cheese?

It's fun, for one. And it's always satisfying to make something from scratch. But my main motivation is the high cost of cheese, and avoiding preservatives used in grocery store cheeses.

What Does Farmer's Cheese Taste Like?

I Googled this question before I attempted to make Farmer's Cheese. Most people seem to think it tastes something like cottage cheese or ricotta or a mixture of both. I think it's a bit more like mozzarella. When made with lemon juice, there is certainly a mild lemony flavor. (Fresh lemon juice has a milder flavor than bottled.)

 How to Use Farmer's Cheese
Farmer's Cheese on pizza.

* As a substitute for mozzarella cheese
* On pizza
* In casseroles or other dishes where you want a nicely melting cheese
* Crumbled over salads
* On crackers
* Added to omelets or scrambled eggs as they cook
* Added to mashed or baked potatoes
* In place of cream cheese in dishes like jalapeno poppers
* In macaroni and cheese (use along with other cheeses)
* Sliced (and perhaps pan fried) and put on toast or bread
* In this amazing-looking Farmer's Cheese Chocolate Cake (oh my!)

The Versatility of Farmer's Milk

There are a lot of variations that change the way this cheese comes out. (But don't worry! That doesn't mean this cheese is tough to make! It's SO easy, and once the milk is heated, takes just minutes to complete.)

Ingredients for Farmer's Cheese. (I prefer to use vinegar instead of lemons.)
Type of Milk

Nor surprisingly, the type of milk you use will change the flavor and texture of this cheese. Goat, sheep, or cow's milk are most commonly used for Farmer's Cheese, but assuming you don't have a source for farm fresh milk, it's fine to use ordinary, grocery store, pasteurized cow's milk. But you do not want ultra high temperature pasteurized (UHT) milk! This is milk that's pasteurized at a very high temperature, killing all the good stuff that helps you make cheese (or yogurt). Unfortunately, as I learned back when I tried to make mozzarella, not all UHT is marked as such. All shelf stable milk is UHT, and some refrigerated milk is, too. A hint that it's UHT? It has an expiration date that's considerably farther out than other brands, or it lasts an extra long time in your refrigerator.

Type of Acid

The Backwoods Home recipe calls for fresh lemons. You could also use bottled lemon juice. White vinegar is also a common choice. Some recipes call for part buttermilk (often leaving out the butter); others call for rennet. Each of these choices will affect the flavor of the cheese. (Personally, I lean toward simple, inexpensive ingredients that I can easily find locally. For me, that means lemons or white vinegar.)

Other Factors

How much whey (liquid) you squeeze from the cheese affects the texture of the cheese greatly. Squeeze every drop out, and you'll have a dry, crumbly cheese (but it will still taste good). Squeeze too little out, and your cheese will be very soft and spread-able (and still yummy). Most Farmer's Cheese is somewhere in between.

In addition, how long you leave the curds (bumpy parts) and whey on the stove before you drain the whey affects the cheese texture and flavor. Some people insist on leaving the curds and whey undisturbed for at least 20 minutes; others don't wait at all. Some recipes also call for heating the cheese extremely slowly over low heat; this is mostly about flavor.
Farmer's Cheese on a salad.

Finally, Farmer's Cheese is sometimes seasoned with herbs, citrus zest, or garlic. These can be stirred into the cheese before it's shaped into a loaf, or you can roll the loaf in them before chilling the cheese.

How to Make Farmer's Cheese

So knowing these things, I decided to try the Farmer's Cheese as exactly laid out in Backwoods Home. I used store bought, pasteurized whole milk, fresh lemons, and a minimum of seasonings. When I got to the stage where the curds and whey separate, I thought I'd failed. I couldn't really see that the milk had separated. I continued with the process of cheesemaking, however, and ended up with a tasty - though quite soft - cheese.

The next time, I took a slightly different route. I used white vinegar in place of the lemon juice, and remembering how well my crock pot made yogurt came out, decided to use the crock pot for heating the milk. Success! The curds and whey almost instantly separated, and I had yummy cheese - and more of it than when I used the Backwoods recipe. So, here's my method. (If you don't have a crock pot, that's fine. Just heat the milk in a heavy, stainless steel saucepan.)

1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
1/4 cup white vinegar (or 2 - 4 lemons, juiced; put the juice from 2 lemons into 1 bowl; put the remaining juice in another bowl)
1 tablespoon butter
Salt
Pepper

Crock pot
Stainless steel spoon
Cheesecloth or flour sack dish cloth
Colander
Large bowl
Small bowls
Plastic wrap or air tight container

1. Pour the milk into the crock pot. Cover and place over high heat. Heat the milk until almost boiling, 180 degrees F. How long this takes depends upon your crock pot. Mine took about half an hour. (Incidentally, I didn't use a thermometer and that's fine for this type of cheese. Just keep checking the milk without lifting the lid of your crock pot. When it just barely begins to have bubbles, it's ready.)

2. Turn off the crock pot and remove the lid. Lift the crock out of the metal shell of the crock pot. Stir the milk.

3. Add about half the vinegar (or the lemon juice from two lemons - which you have in one bowl). Stir. If the curds (the white, lumpy parts that look like cottage cheese) and the whey (the liquid) don't separate, add the rest of the vinegar or lemon juice.

Curds.
4. Line a colander with four layers of cheesecloth (unless you have the high quality stuff that's woven very tightly, in which case you can use two layers) or a flour sack dishcloth. Place the colander over a large bowl. Carefully pour the curds and whey into the lined colander. Take up the edges of the cloth, turning it into a sort of bag. Use a large spoon to press down on the cheesecloth bag, making the whey stream out and into the bowl beneath the colander. Be careful; the curds and whey are hot!
Taking up the edges of the cheesecloth.
5. When you're satisfied that most of the whey is separated from the curds, empty the curds into a small bowl. Add the butter, and, using the back of a spoon, press and mix the butter into the warm curds until the butter is melted and well blended. At first, the mixture will probably feel rubbery, but just keep mixing and soon the cheese will soften.

The whey is now strained from the curds.
6. Season with salt and pepper, then shape into a loaf. Cover with plastic wrap or place in an air tight container in the fridge.

The cheese will last at least one week - perhaps two. It is fine to double this recipe.


What to Do With The Whey

Whey.
They whey from Farmer's Cheese is called "sour whey" or "acid whey" because you've added acid to it. Whey is packed with protein, vitamins C, B, E, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, phosphorous, copper, selenium, and manganese.

Whatever you do, please don't dump it down the drain. Whey changes the acidity of water, which can be a huge issue for nature. Whey can also cause problems with septic and sewage disposal systems. Instead, do one of the following:

* Give it to your chickens or pigs (the traditional thing to do)
* Add it to soup
* Use it as a substitute for milk or water when baking (I hear it makes fluffier pancakes!)
* Use it to fertilize acid-loving plants, like tomatoes and blueberries (Use sparingly and don't place in the soil before seeds have sprouted or it may prevent germination)
* Add it to smoothies
* Use it in place of water to reconstitute fruit juices
* Use it, along with spices, as a meat marinade
* Add a few tablespoons to the water you soak beans in
* Use some in place of water when making stock
* Use it to make lemonade
* Use it for fermenting
* Freeze it for later use

Related Posts:

Failproof Yogurt in the Crock Pot (Slow Cooker)
The Easy Way to Make Butter
Butter in a Jar

Feb 18, 2015

Cauliflower Chowder Recipe - low carb, gluten free

I'm always looking for ways to lower my higher glucose carb intake because, well - they make me fat. Plus, I feel better when I don't eat them. But balancing this need with the need to keep our food budget small and find food everyone in the family - including a picky, low weight kid - will eat, is tough. But with this cauliflower chowder recipe, I have the best of all worlds! It's very much like a potato chowder - only much lower in carbs. It's inexpensive to make. AND it's totally delish and everyone in the family loves to eat it!


Cauliflower Chowder Recipe

4 bacon slices, cooked and chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/4 cup flour (any type, including gluten free varieties)
4 cups beef stock (I've also used ham stock)
1 cup milk
1 cauliflower head, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
Salt
Pepper

1. Place a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium high heat. Add the butter and let it melt. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and carrots. Saute, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender.



2. Add the cauliflower and bay leaf. Saute, stirring often, for about 4 minutes.


3. Add the flour, stirring until you cannot see it any more. A little at a time, stir in stock and milk. Stir constantly until thickened.
4. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until cauliflower is fork tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you feel the mixture is too thick, add a little milk. Stir in bacon and serve immediately.

Other good toppings for this chowder include grated cheddar cheese and chopped green onions.

Adapted from a recipe at The Miniature Moose.



Feb 11, 2015

Homemade Yogurt - in the Crock Pot (Slow Cooker)

"When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees." 


My 6 year old's review of the yogurt I made last weekend: "This is very super duper ultra 3,000 yumminess!" This means a lot because he's a huge store bought yogurt fan.

His delight in my homemade yogurt was especially satisfying because a few years ago, I tried to make yogurt and completely failed. But with the price of groceries going up, up, and up, and with my increasing desire to omit GMOs, preservatives, and other unnecessarily chemicals in our food, I recently decided it was time to give yogurt making another try. This time, I asked a friend who makes her own yogurt what her method was. Her advice was golden! (Thank you, Kim!)

Homemade yogurt is less expensive. One batch of homemade yogurt costs me $1.59. To buy the same amount of yogurt in the store is $5.12. This recipe also has NO food dye, no high fructose corn syrup, no hormones, no GMOs, and zero preservatives. In my experience, that's impossible to find at the supermarket. (Heck, some grocery store yogurt doesn't even have live active cultures - the stuff that makes yogurt so good for you!) Plus, I no longer have all those little plastic yogurt cups to throw away...and my homemade yogurt - well, it just tastes better.

As I considered trying to make yogurt again, I was also encouraged by the fact that people have been making the stuff for thousands of years - all the way back to Bible times. And I love the fact that Abraham may have served the Lord yogurt during the visit in which God promised Abraham a son. (I say "may" because not all translations use the word yogurt.) If people back then could make yogurt without thermometers and electricity, surely I can make it with modern conveniences! And you can, too.

As it turns out, I didn't use a thermometer this weekend (because we only have one and my hubby was using it for barbecuing) - and I also forgot about the yogurt and had to remove it from the oven for over an hour because I needed to bake something for dinner. No, I'm not suggesting you follow my example - but it's a good indication of how foolproof this method is.

A Note on Ingredients

For this recipe, you can use any type of cow's milk. (You could probably use goat's milk, too, but I've never tried it.) Whole milk will give you a thicker finished product, but if you use a reduced fat milk, you can thicken it by adding a little powdered milk, or - other yogurt-makers tell me - by draining off some of the liquid whey once the yogurt is finished. You will also find that the yogurt thickens once it's refrigerated. (By the way, commercially made yogurt is thickened with gelatin - which is made from animal bones, skin, and connective tissue - or pectin - which is made from apples or other fruits.)

Yes, you can use pasteurized milk. I don't recommend ultra pasteurized milk (UHT), simply because it's heated to a very high temperature (higher than regular pasteurization), which kills all the good stuff in the milk. Most organic milk falls into this category. But, if you must use UHT milk, you'll want to also use powdered milk, to make the yogurt thicker.

In order to get all the good bugs in your yogurt - bugs that make yogurt yogurt and also aid the human digestive system - you need to add active cultures. You can buy these in little packets, but it's easier and probably cheaper just to buy plain (no flavorings added), grocery store yogurt. Just be sure it has "live active cultures." Not all brands do!

The next time you use this recipe, you can substitute 1/2 cup of homemade yogurt for the store bought stuff. Over time, however, your homemade yogurt will begin loosing it's active cultures - so periodically, use store bought yogurt when you use this recipe.

How to Make Homemade Yogurt in a Crock Pot

You will need:

1/2 gallon (8 cups) of milk
1/2 cup of plain yogurt with active cultures
1/2 cup powdered milk (optional, but makes the yogurt thicker if using lower fat milk)

1. Pour the milk into the crock pot. Cover. Turn the crock pot onto high. Heat the milk until almost boiling, 180 degrees F. Most crock pots will take at least 2 hours to heat the milk this much, but the first time you try this, start checking after an hour. Remember that every time you lift the lid on the crock pot, you're releasing heat and it will take longer to heat the milk.


2. Turn the crock pot off and remove the lid. Allow the milk to cool to 115 degrees F. (or until you can stick your finger in the milk and comfortably leave it for 10 seconds. Don't rush; not letting the milk cool enough will kill the active cultures you need to make yogurt.) Stir the milk once in a while, using a zig-zag pattern.

3. Add the plain yogurt. If desired, add the powdered milk, too. Stir in, using a zig-zag pattern.

4. Put the lid back on the crock. Lift the crock out of the outer shell of the crock pot. Wrap the crock in an old bath towel and place it in the oven. (The oven should be cool; don't turn on any heat in the oven. The idea here is to keep the milk away from drafts and let it slowly cool off.) Let the crock sit like this for 8 - 12 hours.

5. The yogurt is finished! Stir it and store it in glass jars in the refrigerator. Makes a little over 2 quarts.


You may eat the yogurt plain, or you can:

* Add a little honey to sweeten it.
* Add some applesauce to it.
* Add a bit of jam or jelly to it, to make it fruity, like store bought yogurt.

My little boy loved this yogurt with a little homemade applesauce or homemade jam; it takes just a teaspoonful to sweeten an average serving.



Feb 2, 2015

Dandelion Leaf Green Smoothie

This past month, my family's been enjoying dandelion leaves in all manner of dishes, but one of our current favorites is in smoothies. If you've had a good, hard frost, or if the snow is melted and the dandelion leaves are coming up, you, too can enjoy this super food drink. (If you don't get hard frost or snow, all is not lost. You can blanch dandelions with a box, for example - something I explain in my book - which happens to be FREE today -  The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook.)

As it turns out, common dandelion leaves from what most people consider a pesky garden weed, aren't native to North America. They were brought here by European immigrants who prized them as a food source. And no wonder! Dandelions are one of the best greens you can eat, beating out spinach in terms of protein, vitamins A, C, K, Omega 6, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. Yes, dandelion leaves are very, very good for you.

The trick is to catch them before they get bitter. To do that, you must pick the leaves before the plant begins blooming, and ideally after it's been quite cold. Even so, this smoothie recipe will cover up leaves that are slightly bitter. Oh, and if you wish, you can substitute other greens for the dandelion leaves; kale and spinach are especially yummy.

Dandelion Leaf Green Smoothie

To your blender (I use and love the Magic Bullet NutriBullet our Grammy gave us this Christmas):

1. Add about 1/2 cup (packed) of washed dandelion leaves. If you're unused to greens, you may wish to put in a bit less, or just not pack them down in the measuring cup.

2. Add 1 banana, broken into chunks. If you like icy smoothies, use a frozen banana.

3. Add about 3/4 cup of apple (or as much as you can add without going over the fill line). You can also use a ripe pear, instead, but we prefer the smoothie with apple.

4. Add enough liquid to almost come to the fill line. This is a very personal thing; add a lot if you like thinner smoothies, or add less if you like them thick. We like to use unsweetened almond or coconut milk, but you could use any type of milk - or even water (although I think this recipe tastes much better with milk).
  
5. If desired, you can sprinkle in some walnuts, but I don't always do this and it doesn't seem to affect the flavor of the smoothie.

6. Puree and drink drink away. Makes about 1 pint - enough for 2 people as a snack or supplement to a small meal, or enough for 1 person whose not eating anything else.

 

Jan 7, 2015

Mom's Super Easy, Flexible, and DELISH Banana Bread or Muffins

Growing up, this was the banana bread recipe my mom used:



Dontcha love the splattered and written-on paper? Sadly, the cookbook fell apart long ago, so I can't tell you where it originally came from.

But now that I'm the one doing the baking, I've found that even though we've tried many other banana bread or muffin recipes (including Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Muffins - which are very good, too), my mom's recipe is the one that's everyone's favorite. I've only made one major change, which is to not use unhealthy shortening - and I always feel free to play around with the recipe with added ingredients. Here's how I do it.

Mom's Super Easy, Flexible, and Delish Banana Bread or Muffins

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (or use 1 cup all purpose flour and 3/4 cup whole wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup of butter (room temperature) or coconut oil
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas*

Optional ingredients:

chocolate chips
peanut butter chips
cranberries
blueberries
chopped walnuts


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. If making muffins: Put paper liners in a muffin tin, or lightly grease the tin with coconut oil; set aside. If making bread: Lightly grease a 9x5x3 in. loaf pan with coconut oil; set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the eggs and bananas. Once the butter or coconut oil is thoroughly mixed in, add the eggs and beat until just incorporated. Finally, fold in the bananas and any of the optional ingredients, if using. (You'll notice there are no measurements for these optional ingredients. I just toss in a handful, stir, then add more until I like what the batter looks like! Bear in mind that adding berries - especially frozen ones - will make the batter more moist and will increase the baking time.)


3. Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan or muffin tin. If making muffins, fill each cup about 3/4 full. Bake in the preheated oven. If making bread: bake for about 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If making muffins: Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.


* When making banana bread or muffins, the bananas should be well browned - even black. For me, this is no problem; when I buy bananas, one or two always seem to get overly brown before my family eats them. I pop these into a freezer bag and freeze them. Sometimes I take the time to peel them first, which means they can be popped into this recipe even while still frozen. Other times, I don't bother to peel them, so I defrost them for a bit on the counter, or microwave them for few seconds; you only need to defrost them enough that you can peel them,

If for some reason you don't have any ripe bananas in the freezer, you can instantly ripen them by putting them in your oven.

Nov 25, 2014

Last Minute Thanksgiving Recipe: Tender, Crowd-Pleasing Dinner Rolls!

Most Thanksgivings, my mom-in-law does most of the cooking, and I'm only responsible for one or two food items. This year is no exception. What am I bringing? The soft, delish dinner rolls I brought last year! This is a simple enough recipe, and the resulting rolls are tender and a real crowd pleaser. I've given instructions from easiest (partially made in a bread machine), to slightly more time consuming (partially made in a Kitchen Aid mixer, or made entirely by hand).

Crowd Pleasing Dinner Rolls Recipe

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 1/4 cups bread flour (yep, it has to be bread flour)
1 egg2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature + 2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt

Bread Machine Method:

1. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

2. Place the flour, water, egg, sugar, room temperature (unmelted) butter, yeast, and salt into the pan of your bread machine. Make sure to put them in the order the manufacturer recommends. Close the lid and select the dough cycle. Press start.

3. When the cycle is finished, remove the dough from the pan and punch down. Divide into 15 pieces of about equal size. Place in the prepared baking pan.

4. Brush the rolls with the melted butter. Cover pan with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm location until doubled (about half an hour). (If you prefer circular rolls, instead of squared ones, use two pans and set the rolls well apart from eachother.) In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

5. Bake rolls until golden, about 12 - 15 minutes.


Mixer Method:

1. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a mixer with a dough hook, place the flour, sugar, egg, and butter. Mix until just combined. The yeast mixture should now be foamy. Add it to the flour mixture and mix until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.

4. Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Put in a warm location and allow to rise for bout 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.

5. Punch down the dough and divide into 15 pieces of about equal size. Place in the prepared baking pan.

6. Brush the rolls with the melted butter. Cover pan with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm location until doubled (about half an hour). (If you prefer circular rolls, instead of squared ones, use two pans and set the rolls well apart from eachother.) In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

7. Bake rolls until golden, about 12 - 15 minutes.


By Hand Method:

1. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast. Set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl stir together the flour, sugar, egg, and butter until just combined. The yeast mixture should now be foamy. Add it to the flour mixture and mix until well combined.

4. Lightly flour the countertop and knead the dough until elastic. Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Place in a warm location and allow to rise for bout 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.

5. Punch down the dough and divide into 15 pieces of about equal size. Place in the prepared baking pan.

6. Brush the rolls with the melted butter. Cover pan with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm location until doubled (about half an hour). (If you prefer circular rolls, instead of squared ones, use two pans and set the rolls well apart from eachother.) In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

7. Bake rolls until golden, about 12 - 15 minutes.


Makes 15 rolls.


Oct 29, 2014

Stuffed Winter Squash Recipe

Winter squash is a wonderful thing. It's filling and packed with good nutrients; it's easy to grow; it's prolific; and it keeps for a long time without freezing, canning, or dehydrating (just keep it in a relatively cool location). But because I did not grow up eating any type of squash, I've been working on trying every variety I can find. (Hint: Try farm stands for better variety than grocery stores offer.) From there, I can determine which variety I want to grow in next year's garden.

There are lots of ways to eat winter squash, but it's pretty hard to beat eating it stuffed. And here's a simple, easy recipe that works with any type of winter squash. (I happened to use it with carnival squash, which has a very mild flavor.)

Stuffed Winter Squash Recipe

1 medium sized squash (like butternut, delicata, or carnival squash)
1-2 teaspoons butter, melted
Garlic powder
Salt
Pepper
2 bacon strips
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 lb. ground beef
4 oz. fresh baby spinach
1 garlic clove, minced

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Cut the squash in half. Some winter squash, like butternut, are easy to cut open carefully with a sharp knife. Others, like the relentless tough-skinned hubbard are really, really difficult to cut open. (But the hard outer skin is part of what makes winter squash store so well.) For toughies, carefully use a hatchet or powered saw to cut the squash in half.

Removing the seeds and "slop."
3. Scoop out the stringy inner part of the squash, along with the seeds. (But be sure to save the seeds! They are highly nutritious and easy to roast for a yummy treat. Learn how to roast squash seeds here.) Place the squash, cut side up, on a rimmed baking tray.

4. Brush melted butter all over the "meat" of the squash. Season with a little garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Place in the preheated oven and bake for about one hour. (Larger squash will take longer to bake; smaller will be ready in a shorter amount of time.) You'll know the squash is ready when it is fork tender.

Freshly roasted carnival squash.
5. In a skillet placed over medium heat, cook the bacon. Transfer to paper towels and set aside.

6. Pour all but about 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings out of the skillet. Add the onion and saute until golden brown. Transfer the onion to a small bowl with a slotted spoon; set aside.

7. Add the ground beef to the skillet and cook until no longer pink. Return the onion to the pan. Add the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Add the spinach. Cook, stirring often, until the spinach is wilted.

8. Spoon the beef stuffing into the cavities of the squash. Sprinkle crumbled bacon on top. Serve.



Oct 13, 2014

How to Make Small Batch, Fermented Sauerkraut

Earlier this year, I read that fermented foods contain 100 times more probiotics (substances that stimulate the growth of microorganisms that have great health benefits once consumed) than probiotic supplements. I knew then I really needed to try my hand at making sauerkraut. The happy news is, making fermented sauerkraut is really, really easy. Even though fermented foods may seem strange and new to us today, the fact is that people have been making and eating fermented foods for thousands of years - and without a bunch of fancy gadgets!
I considered buying a fermenting crock for this project - but frankly, they are pricey. And no one in my family had ever eaten fermented sauerkraut before (the stuff you buy in the store is heated and canned, and therefore all the probiotics are dead). If it turned out no one would eat my sauerkraut, I didn't want to spend much money on it. So I decided to use what I already have on hand - canning (mason) jars. (Don't have canning jars? You can use any clean glass jar - for example, an empty mayo jar.) A bonus to using mason jars is that the kraut ferments more quickly - so you can have ready-to-eat food within just a few days.

The results were terrific. Everyone in my family - including the kids! - loved the sauerkraut. I'll definitely be making more.


What You Need to Make Small Batch, Fermented Sauerkraut

Cutting board
Knife
Large bowl
Wide mouth quart mason (canning) jar
8 oz. jelly jar
Marbles or clean pebbles
Cloth (I used cheesecloth, but a clean dishtowel or large fabric scrap works, too)
Rubber band or string

1 cabbage head, any type, approximately 3 lbs., hard outer leaves removed and set aside (If you buy your cabbage without the harder, outer leaves - which is common if you're shopping at a grocery store - that's fine.)
1 tablespoon canning or kosher salt


How to Make Small Batch Sauerkraut in a Mason Jar

1. Make sure everything you use - from the Mason jar to the cutting board - has just been cleaned in hot, soapy water. Or, you can run all your tools through the dishwasher.

2. Cut the cabbage head in half, then cut each half in half again. Cut away the core, then slice the quarters thinly. (You can use a mandolin or cabbage slicer for this job - but from experience I can tell you that mandolins with plastic spikes in the handle don't work well with cabbage; they simply don't hold the cabbage firmly enough to make using the mandolin safe.)

The cabbage after slicing.
3. Place the cabbage slices into a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt on top. Use your hands to massage and squeeze the cabbage. Within 5 - 10 minutes, the cabbage will look limp and there will be liquid in the bowl. The contents of the bowl should look something like coleslaw.
The massaged coleslaw will produce liquid in the bowl.
At this point, you may add seasonings, if you desire. I added 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds; next time I'll reduce that amount by about half. Other common sauerkraut seasonings include mustard seeds, bay leaves, and coriander. But remember, seasonings are totally optional.

4. Pack the cabbage into the mason jar. I found it was easiest to pick up about a tablespoon of sliced cabbage at a time, then drop it in the jar. Occasionally, press down firmly on the cabbage in the jar. You want to get as much as possible in there - without making the juices (or the cabbage) overflow the jar. My cabbage head was a bit larger (about 4 lbs.), so I had a little too much for one mason jar. If you have this problem, simply use an additional jar for the excess.
The sliced cabbage, packed in jars.
5. Pour the liquid in the bowl over the cabbage in the jar. Press down on the cabbage again.

6. If you have the harder, outer leaves of the cabbage, place part of one over the top of the sliced cabbage in the mason jar. This step is optional, but does help keep the sliced cabbage under the liquid in the jar - the key to getting fermented sauerkraut and not moldy cabbage.
Covering the sliced cabbage with a hard, outer cabbage leaf. (An optional step.)
7. Fill the jelly jar with marbles and place the jar inside the larger mason jar, on top of the cabbage. This jelly jar will weigh down the sliced cabbage, keeping it under the liquid in the mason jar.
Jelly jars filled with marbles or clean rocks keep the cabbage under the liquid.
8. Cover both jars with a cloth, secured in place with a rubber band or string. This keeps bugs, dust, and so forth, out of the sauerkraut.
Keep the jars covered.
9. For the next 24 hours, check on the sauerkraut occasionally and press down on the jelly jar. This helps release more liquid from the cabbage. I used a just-harvested cabbage, and had plenty of liquid in my jars. But if, after 24 hours, liquid does not cover the cabbage in the jar, make your own liquid: Dissolve 1 teaspoon of canning or kosher salt in 1 cup of warm water and add it to the mason jar. Again, keeping the cabbage under liquid makes sure it's fermenting, not rotting.

10. Ferment. When the sauerkraut is done is mostly a matter of personal taste. Because you're fermenting in a small jar, your kraut might be done in as little as three days. Mine took a little over a month before I was satisfied with it. (UPDATE 11-3-14: My second batch was ready in under a week. I'm not what changed; maybe just the weather! Or maybe I did a better job of massaging the salt into the cabbage.)
During fermenting, keep the sauerkraut out of direct sunlight and at a cool temperature - about 65 - 75 degrees F. Check the jar every day to ensure the cabbage is under the liquid. (If it's not, press down on the jelly jar until the liquid rises, or add more liquid, as in step 9.) It is normal - in fact, a sign that the cabbage is fermenting - to see bubbles in the jar and white scum on top of the cabbage. You should not see mold, however. (If you do, scoop it out right away and discard the cabbage that touched it. The rest of the kraut is fine.)

11. Refrigerate. When the sauerkraut tastes good to you, remove the jelly jar, put a lid on the mason jar, and refrigerate it. The sauerkraut will stay good in the refrigerator for at least a couple of months.

You can also make larger batches of sauerkraut - with more mason jars, or with a fermenting crock. Just be sure to keep the proportion of cabbage and salt the same.

What about Canning Sauerkraut? Kraut can be canned - but canning it kills all those good-for-you bugs. And since sauerkraut lasts a long time in the fridge (and since cabbage keeps for many months in the fridge or a cool location), I prefer not to can it.




Sep 8, 2014

How to Make Beef Stock or Broth

I've written before about making stock - from chicken, vegetables, fish, and beef - but recently we purchased half a steer, and I found myself with a lot of wonderful beef bones. And since more and more people are buying their beef in bulk and have far more access to beef bones than they used to, I felt a new - more detailed - post was warranted on making your own beef stock. (Not buying part of a steer anytime soon? You can still make your own beef stock. Just find a real butcher's shop and request some beef "soup bones." These are bones that still have some meat on them, and which are full of good marrow. They will be inexpensive - or the butcher might give them to you for free.)

Please note that all you really need to make stock is bones and water. All the other ingredients are optional - but do improve the flavor of the stock and the nutrition of the finished product. So feel free to vary the ingredients, depending upon what you have on hand. However, I do highly recommend using the recommended vinegar, as detailed below; it really does help get all those good nutrients out of the bone marrow.

What You Need to Make Beef Stock or Broth

Roasting pan
Large pot
Strainer
Knife
Cutting board
Slotted spoon
Containers for freezing or canning the stock

about 5 - 8 lbs. beef soup bones, cut into pieces (the butcher will do that for you)
5 carrots, cut into 3 inch pieces
5 stalks celery, cut into 3 inch pieces
2 onions, quartered (leave the papery skins on)
2 - 3 cloves garlic, cut in half (leave the papery skins on)
handful of parsley
4 - 5 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 - 3 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon peppercorns
Vinegar (I use Braggs apple cider vinegar)


How to Make Beef Stock

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

2. Place the beef bones in the roasting pan. Most likely, you'll get frozen bones from the butcher. You don't need to defrost them - just stick them in the pan, frozen. Add the carrots, celery, onions, and garlic to the pan. Once the oven is fully preheated, place the pan in the oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until the meat on the bones looks cooked through. With frozen bones, this takes approximately 60 minutes. If the bones weren't frozen when you put them in the oven, it will take about 30 - 40 minutes. (NOTE: The roasting stage is also optional, but greatly improves the flavor of the stock.)
Before roasting. You'll notice I absentmindedly added the herbs at the roasting stage. This by no means ruined the stock, but I do think it's better to leave the herbs out until the simmering stage.
After roasting.
3. Pour the contents of the roasting pan into a large pot. Be sure to include any fat and liquid in the pan. Add the parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns.

4. Add 1/2 cup of water to the roasting pan and use a spoon to scrap the bits of beef off the bottom of the pan. Pour into the stock pot. Add enough cold water to cover the contents of the pot. Add a splash of vinegar.

5. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently about 4 hours.

6. Strain the contents of the pot, reserving the liquid. (The vegetables can be composted or given to your chickens. Any meat on the bones can be picked off and frozen for soup made at a later date. Or you can give them to the chickens. It's possible to re-use the bones for stock making, but they won't make as fine a stock as the first batch; still, if you want to do this, it's okay to re-freeze the bones so you can use them another day.)

7. Place the stock in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, skim off any congealed fat you find on top of the stock. It should be firm enough that you can just lift it out with your fingers.
Overnight, all the fat rises to the top and becomes firm enough to lift out.
The stock is finished. This batch turned out beautifully gelatinous.
8. The stock may now be frozen or canned. To can, leave 1 inch headspace and process in a pressure canner: pints 20 minutes, quarts 25 minutes*.

I chose not to can this batch because it turned out really gelatinous. While that makes it questionable for canning (because it's thicker and therefore might not heat all the way through, killing any bad bugs during processing), gelatinous is a good thing! In fact, it's what gourmet chefs want. (What is the trick to getting it gelatinous? I'm not absolutely sure, but I think it's simmering it very low, and not adding any water to the pot once it comes to a boil.)



* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.