Showing posts with label Cooking From Scratch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cooking From Scratch. Show all posts

Jan 9, 2019

Simple Low (or No) Sugar Homemade Hot Chocolate (Hot Cocoa)

Keto Hot Cocoa
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Long ago, I learned that made-from-scratch hot chocolate was far and away better than store bought hot cocoa mixes. First, there's the taste. In my opinion, store bought mixes often taste chemically...and I guess they should, because they contain a lot of dubious ingredients. For example, here's the ingredient list for classic Swiss Miss Cocoa Mix:

"Modified whey, cocoa (processed with alkali), nonfat milk, maltodextrin, hodrogonated coconut oil, calcium carbonate, less than 2% off: salt, dipotassium phosphate, carrageenan, mono- and diglycerides, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, artificial flavors."
Did you know manyof those ingredients are things nutritionists say we should avoid?

I also get peeved because the container boasts "no added sugar," when in fact maltodextrin acts like sugar. Oh, and by the way, sucralose is an artificial sweetener linked to spiked blood sugar, weight gain, and increased appetite. I could go on. (For example, while coconut oil is good for you, any fat that's hydrogenated is highly processed. The Harvard School of Public Health website says such fats make our immune system to go into hyper-drive, causing inflammation that's linked to heart disease, diabetes, and just about every chronic illness.)

Which leads me to reason #2 from-scratch cocoa mix is better: The ingredients are simple and clean.

The third reason I love from-scratch hot chocolate is that it's more frugal. I'm always looking for ways to save money on our grocery bill!

And the fourth reason is that homemade hot cocoa is really just as quick to whip up as store-bought mixes.

In 2016, I posted my favorite from-scratch hot cocoa mix recipe, but since then, things have changed. Namely, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Naturally, this altered my eating habits (I went from a low sugar whole foods diet to a low carb, no sugar whole foods diet called keto; you can read about how keto has benefited me here). This also meant my kids were at higher risk of developing diabetes. That 2016 recipe isn't bad, exactly, but it is higher in carbs than I prefer. For example, it uses milk, which is naturally high in sugar. (My new recipe uses heavy cream, which not only makes for a creamier hot chocolate, but naturally reduces the sugar in the drink.)

This new recipe suits both me and my kids. It has fewer ingredients and is lower in carbs and calories, too!, Healthy Hot Chocolate Recipe (Keto Approved!)

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (I love this stuff, but I use this for the kids)
6 oz. boiling water
1/4 cup non-carrageenan heavy cream

*For my children, I use cane sugar because it is GMO-free. For myself, I add monk fruit (this is exactly what I use), which is a natural sweetener that doesn't spike blood sugar. You could use any sweetener you like, of course, though I do not recommend artificial sweeteners, which are of questionable health.

1. Place the cocoa powder in a mug and add the water.

2. Stir in the heavy cream. Add sweetener, to taste. I use a scant 1 tablespoon of sugar for my kids, and 2 - 3 drops of monk fruit for myself.

HINT: Want a more intense chocolate flavor? Add 1/8 teaspoon of instant coffee granules to your cocoa! 

If desired, top with healthy marshmallows or homemade whipping cream. 

I have yet to see any pre-made whipped cream that's healthy. Instead, pour a little heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer and whip it until peaks stand up in the cream when you remove the beater. Add sweetener to taste.

For those who eat sugar, these organic marshmallows are a healthier option. Better yet, make your own without sugar at all. 

Approximate nutrition without whipping cream or marshmallows, according to LoseIt. (Depending upon products used, your version may vary.) Without Sugar: Calories: 210; Fat: 20.5 g; Protein: 1g.; Carbs: 3 g. With 1 tablespoon sugar: Calories: 225; Fat: 20.5 g; Protein: 1 g.; Carbs: 7 g.

Jun 8, 2017

How to Make Celery Salt (Plus: How to Dehydrate Celery)

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We have but one celery plant in our garden, yet it's enough to supply all our celery needs. That's because celery is a "cut and come again" plant, meaning you can cut off the stalks and new ones will grow in their place. Given that our plant is prolific, and given that it's getting huge now that it's spring, I recently cut all the larger stems off and decided to preserve them as celery salt (SO delish on meat and eggs!). I also made some plain dried celery.

Dehydrating the celery was easy: I cut up the stalks, laid them on dehydrator trays (covered with fruit roll sheets that prevent small pieces from falling through the trays' holes), set the dehydrator to 135 degrees F., and waited for the pieces to dry. It only took about 5 hours. These chopped, dried, stalk pieces are perfect for adding to soups and stews, come cool weather.

But I also had a ton of celery leaves I wanted to do something with. When I cook with fresh celery, I normally chop up the leaves and add them to whatever I'm cooking. They add celery flavor, but not crunch. So I dehydrated the leaves, too - and could have left them as is, to also add to soups and stews. But instead, I made really yummy celery salt.

How to Make Celery Salt

You can make celery salt with dried celery leaves, dried celery stalks, or even with celery seeds (but not seeds designed for planting in the ground; they may be treated with chemicals). For salt, I  recommend sea salt, since table salt or iodized salt will impart a less pure flavor. You may use either coarse or fine salt.

1. Powder dried leaves, stalks, or seeds. I used a food processor, but you could use a blender. If you're using leaves, a mortar and pestle, or even your fingers, will also do the trick.

2. Combine the salt and celery powder. The ratio you use is a matter of personal preference. I used half and half (equal parts), but some people prefer a 1:2 ratio, using more of whichever flavor, salt or celery, they want to emphasize.

3. Pour the celery salt into an air tight container, like a glass jar with a lid.

Watch this video to see just how easy it is!

Apr 12, 2017

How to Make Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut in a Mason Jar

Now is a great time to make homemade, DIY sauerkraut. It's healthier than store bought (because all those good probiotics are still in there, whereas most store bought sauerkraut is "dead" of probiotics), cheaper than store bought, and fun and easy, too. Here's my preferred method - which, incidentally, does not require any special tools. For written instructions, click here.

Nov 29, 2016

From Scratch, DIY Hot Cocoa Recipe

DIY Hot Cocoa Recipe
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Recently, my kids asked for hot cocoa - one of their favorite winter treats. We were at Walmart, and sticking to my rule of reading all food labels, I picked up their favorite brand and read the ingredients list. I stopped reading at the second ingredient: corn syrup. Then I read every other hot cocoa label on the shelf. All of them contained corn syrup, plus a host of other icky ingredients. Sigh.

(Wondering why I don't want my family consuming corn syrup? The short answer is that high fructose corn syrup is one of the most common and most unhealthy ingredients found in processed food. It is linked to diabetes and a host of other health problems...and now it can be listed simply as "corn sugar." In addition, corn products are almost always genetically modified (GMO). I am not comfortable feeding GMOs to my family; you can read about some of my reasons here.)

When I got home, I got on Facebook and asked my friends if they knew of a brand of hot cocoa that didn't contain corn syrup. Some suggested Ghirardelli's, and one friend touted AhLaska Organic Cocoa Mix. But another friend said, "Why don't you make it from scratch?" I was a little embarrassed, because I'm that annoying person who's always suggesting making everything from scratch - yet it never occurred to me to do DIY hot cocoa.

So I looked at a gazillion from scratch hot cocoa recipes, and finally settled on this one (from Epicurious). Incidentally, you can find recipes for making your own hot cocoa mix, too, but everything I saw was contained processed ingredients (like powdered creamer), so I decided it was better to make each batch fresh, with fresh dairy.

From Scratch Hot Cocoa Recipe

Multiply this recipe as needed for the correct number of servings.

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (found in the baking aisle of grocery stores)
1 - 2 tablespoons cane sugar
pinch of sea salt
1 cup whole milk (or 1/2 cup whole milk and 1/2 cup cream)
1/4 teaspoon real vanilla extract
Organic marshmallows (optional)

1. In a saucepan placed over medium-low heat, whisk together the cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and 2 tablespoons of milk until sugar is completely dissolved.

2. Whisk in the remaining milk/cream; whisk occasionally until the mixture is hot.

3. Stir in vanilla.

A Few Notes About the Recipe

* When choosing sugar for this recipe, I prefer real cane sugar. That's because beet sugar, or sugar that doesn't mention its source, is usually GMO. Avoid agave, since it's proven the worst source of sugar you can eat. I also avoid Truvia, which is highly processed and full of questionable stuff. Real, pure, stevia may work for this recipe, but I have not tried it.

* I use sea salt exclusively, because processed salt (any salt other than natural sea salt) is linked to autoimmune disease.

* For the dairy, I recommend whole milk, since it's less processed than other types of milk. (It will also make the cocoa creamier.) Ideally, I'd use raw milk, since it isn't processed at all, but it's illegal in my state. (I need to add dairy goats to the homestead!)

* Check your vanilla extract to be sure it's the real thing, and not full of artificial ingredients.

* Regular marshmallows are made from high fructose corn syrup. Look for organic marshmallows, which are usually made from real cane sugar.

But most of all, enjoy! No matter how hard we try to eat healthy, we live in a fallen world, and our food will never be perfect! Eat the foods God provided through nature, but don't get stressed about every bite (or sip), friends.

May 31, 2016

Never Buy Bisquick Again - DIY Pancake Mix Recipe

By the time I was 9 or 10 years old, I couldn't do much in the kitchen - but one thing I could do was make a batch of pancakes. This was the 1980s, and my mother (like most moms of the era) didn't make anything without a box. So in order to whip up a batch a pancakes, all I had to do was measure out some Bisquick and stir in some eggs and milk. Easy!

Today, my 10 year old daughter can't do much in the kitchen, either. Because she's petite, she has a hard time lifting filled pans and seems to have a special talent for burning herself on anything hot. She has a desire to learn to cook, though - and I have dreams of one day being able to say, "This morning, why don't you cook breakfast?" Besides, cooking is an important life skill for all children.

The trouble is, my daughter is still not very accurate at measuring. And because we avoid processed food, we make pancakes from scratch. That means I can't let her make pancakes without supervision...or does it?

The fact is, it's easy to make your own pancake mix - free of preservatives and hard to pronounce ingredients, but still very handy for a quick meal. In fact, while it's really not hard to whip together from scratch pancakes, having a mix on hand does seem to make breakfast come together a bit more quickly. Besides, a mix means the kids can handle pancake making.

To make your own Bisquick, all you need to do is take your favorite pancake recipe, mix up several batches, and pour it into a container. (More details on how to do that below.) Don't have a from scratch pancake recipe? Then steal mine!

DIY Pancake Mix Recipe
This is the from scratch recipe I use; my family prefers pancakes made with some wheat flour. We find them more flavorful, more filling, and more nutritious. However, if you prefer, you can replace the whole wheat flour in this recipe with white unbleached flour.

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/4 cups white unbleached flour
3 - 9 tablespoons cane sugar (optional; I typically don't add any sugar)
1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

Blend together and pour into an airtight container. I use an empty (and well washed with white vinegar) coffee container, but a gallon sized canning jar works well, too. 

To the container, tape the rest of the recipe:

Measure out 3 1/4 cups of the pancake mix. Then add:

1 1/2 cups milk or buttermilk
1 tablespoon olive oil or melted coconut oil (optional)
1 large egg
1 egg white (only needed if using whole wheat flour)
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional if using all purpose flour only, but necessary if using whole wheat flour)

Mix well. If batter seems too thick, add a little extra milk.

HINT #1: Have a reluctant cook or a child who needs a little extra help making pancakes? Make the job even easier by measuring out single batches of pancake mix into Ziplock bags!

HINT #2: I often make more than one batch of pancakes at a time, then pop them in the freezer. Any time I need a speedy breakfast, I reheat the desired amount in the microwave or on a low setting in the oven. Learn how to freeze pancakes (and waffles) here.

How to Make Pancake Mix From Your Own Recipe

If you already have a from scratch pancake recipe you love, it's very simple to turn it into a mix. Just triple or quadruple the dry ingredients. An easy peasy way to do that is to use this online recipe calculator, which allows you to decrease and increase recipes.

To find out how much of the mix you'll need for a single batch of pancakes, measure out all the dry ingredients in their single batch measurements, and place them in a bowl. Now remove the mixture from the bowl using measuring cups (start with the 1 cup size) and place them in another container, making note of how many cups the batch contains.

Finally, remember to print out this measurement - plus the rest of the recipe - and tape it onto your pancake mix storage container.

* Title image courtesy of  ポトフ

Dec 31, 2015

Better-Than-A-Restaurant Beer Batter Fish or Onion Rings Recipe

From time to time, my family likes to splurge a little and have some beer battered fish and chips. And, a little more often, we like to add onion rings to my husband's fantastic grilled burgers; it puts them over the top! However, when I developed non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, I soon learned that unhealthy oils were something I couldn't indulge in - even a little bit. Sadly, nearly all restaurants cook with unhealthy oils - particularly when they fry food. So recently, I've had to learn to make our own battered fish and onion rings. At first, I was apprehensive, but it turns out it's very easy to do - and far superior to anything I've ever had in a restaurant! You don't even need a deep fryer.

Beer Batter Recipe

2 eggs
12 oz. cold beer
1 1/2 cups + 1 cup all purpose flour
Sea salt (I use Old Thompson's sea salt grinder)
2 1/2 to 3 lbs. of whatever you want to fry

A Few Notes:
  • You could probably use any beer you like. The original recipe (found in the now defunct Everyday Food magazine) called for light- or medium-bodied lager. I use cheap ol' Busch beer.  
  • Do use pure sea salt with nothing added to it, since processed salt is linked to autoimmune disorders - and salt with iodine added will taste "off." 
  • Oil choice is of paramount importance. In recent years, most cooks have taken to using vegetable or canola oil for frying. However, these are some of the most highly processed oils you can consume - and very good at clogging up your liver. On the other hand, the most commonly used healthy oil - extra virgin olive oil - is inappropriate for frying because when it reaches the appropriate temperature, it becomes carcinogenic. Refined olive oil, however, is considered an acceptable choice for frying. Personally, I use what my naturopath recommends: sesame oil.
  • Also, while you do not need a deep fryer for this recipe, you do absolutely need a decent thermometer. I prefer to the probe type (like this), rather than the stick type, so I can place the tip in the oil the entire time I'm cooking, to ensure the oil stays at the appropriate temperature.

1. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until the whites and yolks are well blended. Whisk in the beer. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt.

2. Pour 1 cup of flour into a shallow bowl. Place a wire cooling rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet and place near the stove.

To Make Beer Battered Fish:

Use cod or halibut. (I use cod and it's better than any beer battered halibut I've ever had!) I cut mine into single serving pieces, but you could do smaller strips, too. Then:

1. Fill a large, heavy skillet with oil. It should come about halfway up the sides of the food. If you have one, I highly recommend using a cast iron skillet; otherwise, any heavy skillet will do. Turn the heat to medium and place the thermometer in the oil.

2. Once the oil reaches 375 degrees F., cover the food in the flour and shake off any excess.

3. Dip in the beer batter, coating well, and brushing excess away.

4. Gently place the food in the skillet. Don't overcrowd the skillet; it's better to work in small batches.

5. Cook for approximately 3 minutes. (Begin timing when the first piece of food goes into the skillet.) Be sure to adjust the temperature of the stove to keep the oil at approximately 375 degrees F. the whole time you are cooking. The temp will fluctuate, but if it goes too low, things won't cook quickly and crisply - and if the temperature goes too high, you'll risk burning the food - and the oil will begin to smoke. For best results, make small adjustments to the temperature of the stove.

6. Turn the food over, using tongs. Cook approximately another 2 minutes, or until the food looks deep golden.

7. Using tongs, remove the food from the skillet and place on the prepared cooling rack. Immediately season with salt. If necessary, keep the food warm in an oven set at about 200 degrees F.

6. In between batches, use a slotted spoon to remove bits of batter from the oil.

So light and flaky!

To Make Onion Rings

I use yellow onions, because they are the staple in my kitchen and I always have them around - but you can use any type of onion you like.

1. Peel off the papery outer skins and slice onions into rings of whatever thickness you prefer. Place slices in a shallow bowl and cover with buttermilk. (It takes about 2 cups to cover the slices from one onion.) If you don't have buttermilk on hand, use regular milk with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar added to each cup.

2. Allow the onion slices to soak for 30 minutes. This step mellows the strong onion flavor and should not be skipped. After half an hour, remove the onion rings from the milk, one by one, and follow the fish frying steps outlined above.


Nov 3, 2015

Easy as Pie: 45 From Scratch Pie Recipes

My pie recipe cookbook is complete! I had a lot of fun testing recipes - and my husband, kids, and neighbors thought it was tasty fun, too. I think you'll find this cookbook does make pie making "easy as pie."

Easy As Pie features favorite types of pies all in one easy to use cookbook – plus it gives tips for making them healthier. (Yes, pie for breakfast may actually be healthier than boxed cereal!) Available both as a paperback and as a Kindle ebook, this title also features:
  • Recipes for four different types of crusts – including gluten free! 
  • 45 from scratch pie recipes, including cream pies, fruit pies, nut pies, vegetable pies, and more.
  • Over 60 full color photos. 
You'll learn:
  • Tips for easy, no fail pie crusts.
  • How to successfully make meringue.
  • How "cutting in" ingredients makes the difference between a tender, flaky crust and a tough one.
And much more!

Featured are:
  • Blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, and mixed berry pies.
  • Lime, lemon, and orange pies.
  • Peach, strawberry, pear, cherry (not from a can!), apple, apricot, raisin, plum, and nectarine pies.
  • Banana cream, chocolate cream, and coconut cream pies.
  • Pumpkin (not from a can!), butternut,  sweet potato, and rhubarb pies.
  • Pecan, walnut, and peanut butter pies.
  • Plus other pies you may not have heard of, including green tomato, zucchini, green pumpkin, cookie dough, shoofly, and brownie pies!
Perfect for the holidays - or any day of the year!

Now available in both paperback (black and white interior) and Kindle format (full color interior). I hope you enjoy it!

Oct 23, 2015

DIY Cinnamon Sugar

Recently, my son's pediatrician recommended we try a no-wheat diet for our 6 year old son who's
been experiencing tummy troubles. Knowing this was just a trial, I didn't want to invest in the many ingredients to make gluten free bread at home - but at the same time, I was constantly getting puppy dog eyes because the little guy was longing for bread. So I bought some gluten free bread. Sadly, not only was it expensive ($8 for a tiny loaf), but it didn't taste very good. My solution? I toasted and buttered the bread and sprinkled cinnamon sugar over it. A success!

But, if you've been reading this blog for long, you probably know I don't like to buy spice blends. Some store bought blends have unhealthy ingredients. Others, like cinnamon sugar, are just more expensive to buy already blended. And cinnamon sugar is so easy to make, I just can't bear to buy it pre-blended. Here's how I make my own:

DIY Cinnamon Sugar

All you need is sugar, cinnamon, and an air tight container to store your blend in.
1. Find a container for your finished spice blend. I use a cinnamon sugar container I bought eons ago, but any glass jar with a well-fitting lid will work great. You could even use a Ziplock style bag.

2. Measure out 1/4 cup of sugar. I recommend cane sugar, since beet sugar or sugar of unknown origins is usually GMO. Pour the sugar into a bowl.

3. Measure out 4 tablespoons of cinnamon. Add it to the bowl.

4. Stir the sugar and cinnamon together and transfer to your air tight container. If you're like me, you'd also better label the container or you may confuse it with taco seasoning or something equally yucky on toast.
You can, of course, adjust these measurements to suit your personal taste. For us, though, this ratio of sugar to cinnamon is just right - not too sweet and not too "cinnamony."

Sep 29, 2015

Easy DIY From Scratch Steak Fries

I call them steak fries, but they are actually pretty similar to jo-jos - except they aren't fried. So think of them as a cross between jo-jos and steak fries. (On second thought, who can even afford steak these days? Maybe I should call them burger fries, instead!) But whatever you call them, these fries are super easy to prepare and extremely yummy - soft on the inside, and crispy on the outside.

Easy DIY From Scratch Steak Fries

Yellow potatoes
Olive oil
Sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Begin with yellow potatoes. You could probably use another type of potato, but they won't hold up as well, and the texture and flavor will be different. Scrub up the potatoes, and prick them with a fork three times each. (How many do you need? I typically use one per person, plus one or two extra.)

3. Place the prepared potatoes in the microwave and cook them - 3 minutes per potato. (So if you have three potatoes, you'll need to cook them 9 minutes.) When done, the potatoes should no longer be hard - but you don't want them mushy, either. (NOTE: If you don't want to microwave the potatoes, you can bake them whole in the oven.)

4. Allow the potatoes to cool enough so you can comfortably handle them. Cut each potato in half and place the cut sides down on a cutting board. Slice each half into wedges that are a generous 1/4 thick.
Slice potatoes a generous 1/4 in. thick.
5. Place the wedges on a rimmed baking sheet. A few may fall apart; that's okay. Just make sure the wedges are in a single layer. Drizzle olive oil over the wedges. Turn the wedges over, making sure both sides are lightly coated with olive oil. (You can use spray oil, but it has added ingredients that may or may not be healthy.) Season the wedges liberally with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Season liberally with sea salt and pepper.
6. Pop the baking sheet into the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes.

7. Now broil the wedges for about 5 minutes; remove from the oven and turn the wedges over. Broil for about 3 more minutes. Be sure to watch the potatoes carefully at this stage, or they may burn. When the wedges are golden brown and the skins bubbly, they're done.

Feel free to serve these fries with catsup or homemade Ranch, but honestly - even my kids agree these fries don't need condiments!

Jun 1, 2015

Making Jerky - Part I: How to Make Jerky with a Food Dehydrator or Oven

Depending upon who you talk to, the word "jerky" is believed a corruption of the Incan word "ch'arki" (which literally means "dried meat) or a corruption of the Quechuan Native American word "Charqui" (which means "to burn meat"). Whatever the case, for thousands of years, humans have prized jerky because it made meat last longer (before the days of freezing, refrigeration, and canning) and was light and easy to carry while traveling.

Jerky is still a favorite snack. Just like our ancestors, we like to bring it when we're on the go. It's also a great way to make tough or gamey meat much more edible. Some people worry about the nitrates in jerky, but if you read this blog, you know you get more nitrates from eating arugula. Commercially prepared jerky, however, is full of chemical preservatives and GMO ingredients. Plus, it's expensive. So there are several good reasons for making your own.

At our house, my husband usually makes the jerky. He uses the traditional method: A smoker. I'll type about this process soon. But today, I want to share an alternate way to make jerky - a method that's perfect for those without a smoker or smoke house: With a food dehydrator or oven.

Making Jerky with a Food Dehydrator

Years ago, when I got my Nesco American Harvest food dehydrator (which I highly recommend, by the way), it came with Nesco's jerky gun. Because my husband usually makes jerky, though, I never used it...until recently. I do think my hubby's jerky is better (because of the natural smoke flavor) - however, the jerky I make in my food dehydrator is more like what you buy in grocery stores. And the jerky making gun is a terrific way to use ground meat, rather than meat slices. And yep, this method covers up that gamey taste just as well as the traditional smoker method.

Notes on What You Need

An electric food dehydrator: Could you use a solar dehydrator? I suppose you could. But it will take forever and the longer the meat sits out, the greater the risk of food poisoning. Especially if you use a jerky gun, using an electric food dehydrator is a quick operation. I did five trays of jerky in about 5 - 6 hours.

A jerky gun: Only needed if you're using ground meat. (Otherwise, you just need a sharp knife; be careful!) My Nesco jerky gun works really well, and it gives the option of making round Slim Jim style sticks; wide, thin pieces; or narrower, thin pieces. There are other jerky guns out there, though.

Jerky cure: Jerky cure is essential. This is the stuff that helps preserve the meat, keeping it safe to eat. I use the cure that came with my jerky gun, but you can buy cure online and at better grocery stores. It consists of uniodised salt (usually sea- or kosher salt) and nitrates. You can leave out the nitrates, but your jerky won't last nearly as long. (If the jerky seasoning recipe you're using has plenty of salt, you can omit adding more.)

Jerky seasoning: You can buy jerky seasonings online or in some grocery stores, but do read the ingredients label. I have yet to find one that wasn't full of nasty chemicals or GMO ingredients. You can also make your own seasonings; the Internet is full of recipes! Here are some that are great for ground meat and a jerky gun. But when looking for jerky recipes online, be sure to note whether they are for ground meat or meat slices. Meat slices are usually marinaded overnight in something liquidy. If you try to use a recipe like that for ground meat, it will be too gooey to use with a jerky gun...and it will taste terrible. Trust me; been there, done that! Also, if your meat is gamey, you'll want a recipe with plenty of strong spices.

Paper towels: For patting off fat from ground meat.

Air tight containers: For storing your finished jerky.

How to Make Jerky in a Food Dehydrator, Step-by-Step

1. If you're using meat slices, make sure they are very thin and that you cut off as much fat as possible. The meat will be easier to cut if it's a bit frozen. If using ground meat, it should be very lean. Grass fed beef or wild meat are perfect.

2. If using ground meat, mix the cure and the seasonings; with your hands, mix into the meat until well blended. If using meat slices, mix the marinade/cure in a Ziplock bag or airtight container. Add the meat, making sure it's well covered. Refrigerate overnight.

3. If using ground beef, load it in the jerky gun, according to the manufacturer's directions. Squeeze the jerky directly onto the trays of the food dehydrator. If using slices, lay on the dehydrator's trays by hand. Either way, pieces should not touch each other, or they may become stuck together.

4. Set the dehydrator to 160 degrees F. After 2 or 3 hours, or at about the halfway point, turn the jerky over. If using ground beef, from time to time pat the jerky down with paper towels, to remove excess fat. Continue dehydrating until leathery.

5. Allow jerky to cool before putting in air tight containers. For jerky made from ground beef, wrap in paper towels and allow to cool for a couple of hours. This helps remove more excess fat - which improves shelf life. Remove paper towels and place jerky in air tight containers.

Jerky should be either frozen or kept in the refrigerator. It's fine to keep the jerky unrefrigerated for a day or so - but it's not a good idea to keep it unrefrigerated for days. Remember that the less fat that's in the meat, the better the jerky will last. In addition, the more fully dry the meat is, the longer the jerky will last - yet super dry jerky is quite hard and difficult to chew. That's more like our ancestors ate it, but much less like modern day store bought jerky.

Making Jerky in an Oven

Don't have a dehydrator? You can instead place the meat on a wire cooling rack placed over a rimmed baking sheet; put this in the oven on it's lowest setting. (If you have a warming drawer, put it in there, instead.) This doesn't work quite as well as a dehydrator, because the temperature is higher, but it still works!


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 Cheese

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

Crock pot
Stainless steel spoon
Cheesecloth or flour sack dish cloth
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.

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

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

This post was featured at the Homestead Blog Hop.